A Blueprint for Behavioural Change in DogsAug 12, 2023
A Blueprint for Behavioural Change
Neural Pathways in Dogs
(it's proper interesting, honest ; )
We’re always training, always learning. Just as our dogs need consistent training to improve their skills, we do too.
I personally study on a very regular basis to enhance my knowledge and techniques. This allows me to engage more effectively not only with our dogs but also in understanding how we, as humans, interact with them.
Whether engaging with a coach or mentor, working through online courses, or reading about interesting aspects of dog training, behaviour, physiology, and psychology I’m on a seemingly never-ending journey of learning fresh perspectives. These fresh ideas often challenge my own preconceived notions, but this is the fun of learning, and I do so in order to better myself and maybe more importantly, best serve my clients and their dogs.
Every dog is unique, each behaviour although sometimes similar can be caused for different reasons and each case will have its own challenges; to address these challenges I understand that my own knowledge has to be detailed and always growing.
As a Dog Trainer and Behaviourist, I must always be looking to learn and hone my skills and knowledge to better myself so I can honour the profession I am passionately proud to be a part of.
I’m proud to be training with ‘The School of Canine Science’ on a number of their courses to enhance my knowledge and this topic really sparked a fascination with the more detailed aspects of the canine brain and how their neurological functions affect their behaviour.
Neural Pathways in Dogs
When it comes to Dog Training, we often use or hear terms like "reinforcement," "conditioning," and "behaviour modification."
Underneath all these techniques is a more profound, neurological process: the formation of new neural pathways.
Took me A LOT of thinking to work through this topic and I now think of it like this, the more we walk a path in a field, the clearer and more defined the path becomes.
But how does this affect our dogs behaviour?
A Maze of Connections in the Dogs Brain
Imagine an overgrown field of lush green grass – that's your dog's brain. Within this field are numerous potential paths (neural pathways) connecting various parts of the field, like a maze. Every time your dog learns something or reacts to a situation, it’s like it’s thought process is walking down one of these paths.
When your dog is young or inexperienced in a situation, it’s like it’s venturing into an untouched part of the grassy field and creating a new path.
Over time, as these behaviours or reactions are repeated, that path becomes well-trodden, making it easier for your dog to travel down it instinctively, or as a learned behaviour.
Training is Path Building
If they repeat this action, then this ‘path’ strengthens a ‘neural pathway’ and training simply becomes a strategic game of path-building.
When we want our dogs to undergo a behavioural change, we're simply guiding them down a new path.
For example, if your dog jumps on guests coming into the home, this is a well-defined path in their brain that leads to reward. In order to change this, we need to guide them towards a new path to maybe sit politely when people arrive.
Every time your dog chooses to sit instead of jump (with some encouragement and reward from you), imagine them taking a few steps down this new pathway.
The more they ‘walk’ on this new path, the clearer it becomes, eventually making sitting the learned behaviour rather than jumping.
Repetition and Reinforcement
In terms of neural pathways, repetition is like walking down that new path over and over, this makes it the more desirable option. When the dog is rewarded for taking this new path you’re ‘marking’ the good behaviour, encouraging them to choose it again in the future.
Old paths can become overgrown and harder to see but they’re always there, just like old behaviours are always there, under the surface. But if we’re consistent in encouraging the use of the desired route (or behaviour) we can guide the dog to make the right choices into the future.
Dog Training isn’t just about commands and rewards.
We need to understand the maze of their minds and help them make new paths that lead to desired behaviours.
THIS is how we guide our dogs through life and the way to create lasting desirable behavioural changes.