Rescue Dogs come with a history but rarely with a “Lifebook”–(since I often work with foster children I hope that someone has been taking photos, grade reports, healthnotes, and putting the child’s history into an album- a Lifebook– that will travel forward with the child) and with a Rescue Dog that would also be so helpful! Many dogs do give indications of some of the things they learned before finding their ‘forever home’ and some of those are just part of their personalities. Or, quirks! But without that recorded history, I sometimes just have to guess what might work best.
You probably know that we mammals, and other species, too, learn best by association with something already known to us. For instance, brain researcher Dean Buonomano, gives an example in his new book Brain Bugs, of how associations work. You and I are more likely to remember the name Baker if we think of the profession instead of a person whose last name is Baker. Same word – yet the associations we have towards a bakery will create many more cross-reference associations, or memories.
And we also remember better when we learn something new in shorter sessions and with fewer facts. For instance, three to seven facts or numbers at a time will latch on easier and have a better chance to be stored in the brain cells than twenty. That’s just the way our brains work!
So back to my dogs! Training Ruffles- a fairly free-spirited young dog, has been easier since Mae-be Baby, the 5-year-old Boxer, already knows the actions I want to teach Ruffles! True! When Ruffles is confused the only thing I need to do is get Mae-be involved. If I offer the opportunity to Mae-be, Ruffles will watch and happily try to imitate the same action. Ruffles loves to roll over (this is harder for a bigger, older Boxer) – to the words “show me your belly!” and as Mae-be watches her do this she starts laying down to do the same. They teach and encourage each other. Add in a good smelling treat, maybe a positive sound to reinforce the association and memory, and the learning sessions go very quickly while we all have fun!
Back to the research for a moment– people (especially little people) also learn from watching, so we adults need to be more aware of our actions. You never know who’s watching and the scope of our influence. And Mae-be Baby and Ruffles certainly watch me, too! Sometimes I wonder who is training who!! You will find many examples of this learning method on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, or watching The Dog Whisperer. There is plenty of well-documented evidence that dogs, dolphins, chimps, gorillas, and many birds all have the ability to teach each other. Sometimes birds or animals will even mimic a behavior they have seen on a video.
If you have beloved pets than you delight in their activity, too. We’d love to learn from your observations and experiences, so chime in! It would be great to hear from you!