Dogs do not think or understand the same way as we do. The dog’s process of learning consists of a reaction to stimuli impacting the senses thus formulating impulses, associations and habits. If we understand this process we will be able to teach our dog more effectively and at the same time we will develop strong bonds with our dog.
Impulses and stimuli are the key to understand the purpose of a dog’s life. Stimuli can be positive or negative, motivating or demotivating. Stimulus is a detectable change in the internal or external environment, which influences or causes a temporary increase of physiological and physical activity or response in the whole organism or in any of its parts.
Stimuli can evoke a response or have an influence on an organism to act. We can divide stimuli into two groups: unconditioned and conditioned. The unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is one that unconditionally, naturally, and automatically triggers a response
Unconditioned stimulus it is a type of stimulus that evokes an unconditioned response. An example of unconditioned stimuli is instinct. Instinct expresses behavioral patterns that are genetically controlled as opposed to behavior that has been previously learned in the organisms lifetime. However, instincts have been modified for years in the process of learning. Instinctive behavior enables dogs to:
- Hunt a pray
- Protect the pack
- Position in the pack
Domesticated dogs do not have to hunt like their ancestry. They learned how to get food from their owners. Dogs use their natural charm, they wave the tail, look into the eyes, do the tricks we taught them or they earn food by working for us (herding, guarding).
Dogs are social animals. They live in a pack and they need a leader who is confident and has a positive attitude towards life. Dogs are emotional creatures. Sexuality and reproduction is one of the key factors in dog’s life, if not the most important, even though it is not common for us to observe this in domesticated dogs’ life.
Unconditional stimuli are all stimuli that have a direct impact on a dog’s body, for example:
a) lifting a dog or strong touch
b) massage and petting
c) use of accessories i.e. collars, strings, straps
d) feeding with treats
Conditioned stimuli it is the previously neutral stimulus that eventually triggered a behavioural (often reflexive) response to an organism under observation. Conditioned stimuli are all signals and commands, verbal visual or scent signals. These stimuli are received mainly by the nervous system (brain and spinal cord)