Dogs are fascinating beings. They can learn, feel, and evolve. You have probably noticed how dogs understand almost everything when you talk to them as if they were humans.
Not that only can understand your language, but they have mastered the human body language as well, which makes them perfect in understanding human verbal and non-verbal communication.
Bear in mind that a dog’s brain evolved over time, which is why they need constant mental stimulation to develop further.
Dogs love being around humans. With people around, they have a job to do – a purpose, and they learn.
Smart Dogs Learn Fast
Numerous studies shared insight into how dogs learn and what they can remember.
Even without these studies, experienced dog trainers and dog owners would tell how the best way to keep a dog’s mind alert is to teach him tricks.
They can master a skill thanks to repetition. However, they lack episodic memory or memory of past events, according to a study from 2014 conducted at Stockholm University.
It turns out that they don’t remember very recent events.
For example, puppies don’t remember licking themself five minutes ago.
The study concluded that dogs usually forget events after about two minutes.
If this is true, how do they learn new commands over and over again? Or, more importantly, how do they remember them?
Do They Remember After All?
If dogs forget so easily, how do they manage to perform ‘sit’ or ‘come‘ command constantly?
It turns out that they might not remember how to ‘sit,’ but they can definitely remember the positive association between sitting and receiving a treat. So, treats are the key to having a smart and well-behaved dog.
Treats are mandatory part of a dog’s training. Thanks to treats dogs are actually capable of learning.
Through every training session, your dog actually goes through procedural and associative memory, making a connection between the behavior and the reward.
The Smartest Dog in the World
You have probably heard about Chaser, a Border Collie who earned the title “Most Intelligent Dog In The World.” He could correctly distinguish over 1,000 different words.
Did you know that most two-year-old toddlers know about 300 words?
Chaser passed away on July 23rd, 2019 surrounded by loved ones in her hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, but stories about him continue to live.
Chaser’s learning process is what fascinated the scientists even today. His learning process was actually very similar to babies learning new words. The more she learns, the faster she gets.
Still, to achieve this level, you should work with your dog a few hours per day, every day. Not even then, you can’t be sure that your dog would learn everything because there are other factors to consider, such as a breed.
A breed has a lot to do with the dog’s capability of learning.
Smartest Dog Breeds
Stanley Coren, a canine psychology professor at the University of British Colombia and a book author, has a specific way of measuring a dog’s intelligence.
He measured it by testing 80 breeds in how quickly they could learn a new command.
Coren published that specific breeds need fewer than five repetitions, such as:
- Border Collie (Chaser!)
- German Shepherd
These breeds were named the most intelligent. Some breeds are classified as least intelligent because it took them between 80 to 100 repetitions to master a new command.
Some of these breeds are:
- Afghan Hound
If you want to adopt a Basenji, don’t let this discourage you because each dog is an individual. Plus, every dog is a master at something.
Since dogs were bred for different tasks. For example, Rottweiler might be one of the brightest dogs, but Vizsla will be one of the most impressive working dogs, while Newfoundland is above average working dogs, and so on.
Every dog is talented at something; it all depends on what type of companion do you need. Some breeds do have a steeper learning curve than others, but ancestry and pedigree aren’t everything.
Persistency, well-designed training, timing, and consistency have a lot to do with positive reinforcement training that can help dogs build strong associations between rewards and behaviors faster.
How Many Times Should You Repeat A Command?
Training a dog of any breed can be challenging, especially if you are a first time dog owner.
Different breeds have different physical needs, intelligence levels, and specific temperament traits that mean that approach one-size-fits-them-all doesn’t apply.
Do your research on the breeds first. See what makes them go and what their drives are. From there, you can build further.
If you have a Pomeranian you will discover that they love to please, which means that they will enjoy various tricks and prefer short training sessions.
On the other hand, if you have a Great Dane, you will discover that any physically hard or demanding exercise should be avoided due to any hip or joint injury due to their size.
So, the most intelligent dog breeds like the Border Collie are quick to learn commands, and they usually can pick up a command after only two repetitions, and definitely less than five.
Some dog breeds might need fewer repetitions in order to learn a command and execute it, while some would need even more.
Still, there is no strict rule of thumb stating how many times is the maximum you should repeat a single command before your dog gets it – but if you find that you’re repeating a command more than three times and still aren’t achieving your goals, go back to the start and start again.
Your dog needs to understand what you want him to do. Once you get that first command right, you are good to go. Repeating can do wonders.
The 5 Stages Of Successful Dog Training
Puppies and adult dogs, and even seniors, learn through five training stages. These stages are:
They need to acquire a sense of what behavior you expect. Simply said, they must associate the expected behavior with the command. You need to demonstrate to them what to do.
Communicate with dogs using your body language because words don’t mean a lot to them. Keep training sessions simple so that they can acquire the association.
Dogs love routine and consistency. For them, inconsistency is frustrating and confusing. Inconsistency is the best way to have a poorly behaved dog.
Dogs needs to acquire the correct association for following commands or well-mannered behavior. Consistency makes training easier, stress-free, and effective.
Bear in mind that consistency doesn’t apply only to training classes, but to house rules as well.
If you don’t want your dog sitting on the couch, don’t invite him to jump in when you feel tired, or you want to pet him.
Off-limit areas should be off-limit all the time, no matter your emotional state. If possible, an entire family should attend training classes – your dog will appreciate it.
Brace yourself because you might hear yourself repeating ‘sit’ and ‘come’ a hundred times per week. Repetition is vital when it comes to well-trained and behaved dogs. The key to learning associations is consistent repetition.
Once your dog understands the expected behavior, you can make things more interesting and eventually raise the bar. It’s important to keep training sessions fun and challenging.
Dogs are pleasers, and they will want to please their humans, as long as there is enough patience, a safe environment, enough treats, and consistency for them to enjoy. Therefore, challenge a dog’s mind by expanding and varying commands.
Pro tip: Do not expand and vary the repetitions until your dog responds appropriately to the simple command at least 90% of the time.
Giving a command over and over again verbally will become boring to your dog eventually. Reinforce your command with a physical gesture to help your dog read your body language as well.
Watch your hand commands to keep your dog focused on you. Gestures might also reinforce the behavior you are expecting without boring your dog to tears.
Nothing lasts forever. Teaching your dog command is one thing while maintaining it is a whole another level. You should know that dog training is a labor of love.
No matter how much money you invest in puppy or dog training classes, you can’t expect it to last forever when they are young.
The very finals stage of the dog’s training is maintenance. The most well-behaved dogs are the ones that learn to respect boundaries and interact with people and other animals on an on-going basis.
Last, but not least – old dogs can learn new tricks! Start small, work with your dog for a few minutes daily, and build from there. Incorporate training into their daily routine. You and your dog will enjoy the training time.
From time to time, present a new toy, a new game, or even agility training. Only use positive reinforcement training, and never use harsh methods.
The Bottom Line
Training your dog takes time, but it doesn’t have to be an exhausting process. Be organized and consistent. Train your dog every day for a few minutes at first, and build up from there.
Keep in mind these stages and follow them. Always double-check if reality is aligned with your training goals. If not, you might want to take a step back and do it again.