top of page

What is Concept Training?

Updated: Nov 29, 2023


Emilio and Oreo training by the river cam - Image by River WIlson

In the ever-evolving world of dog training, theres a revoltionary training method rising, and it's changing the game. Imagine a training approach that goes beyond the basic 'sit' and 'stay' commands, delving into the realm of understanding and connection. Welcome to the world of Concept Training with Positive Reinforcement.


Contents


Concept Training


So, what's the buzz about? Well, concept training flips the script on traditional methods. It's not just about teaching your dog specific behaviors; it's about unlocking broader concepts that make your furry friend a real problem-solver. Concept training takes you dog's learning to a whole new level. It's about getting them to understand big ideas! Imagine your dog making smart decisions all on their own!


Picture this: instead of merely teaching your dog to 'sit,' you're guiding them to grasp the concept of 'impulse control.' It's not about obedience for the sake of it; it's about instilling adaptability and versatility in your canine buddy.


It's not about obedience for the sake of it; it's about instilling adaptability and versatility in your canine buddy.

How do these concepts shape your dogs brain?


Concepts take a problem-solving approach, aiming to uncover the underlying reasons behind your dog's behavior rather than just addressing surface-level symptoms. This approach results in a significant and genuine transformation in your dog's behaviour. Quick fix trainers focus on training specific behaviours like 'sit', 'heel', 'leave it' which are all valuable commands for your dog to know. What if, we built upon this and changed the reason we were giving the dogs commands.


We could test their intelligence, watch them problem solve and figure out what we want! Does that dog struggle with their 'tolerance of frustration'? Do they have 'impulse control' with their given a wait?


Training concepts gives your dogs the skills it needs for life to be a calm, confident dog, that can make correct decisions.


Imagine your dog's brain as a puzzle of different concepts that shape its personality. How well it understands these concepts influences their daily choices, and when you put all these concepts together, you get your dogs special personality.


So if your dog struggles with recall, it means their engagment and proximity is lacking in skills and in need of a level up. Playing proxitmity games such as "This Way" "Bounce" & "Seesaw" enagages our dogs and pours value into being close to you!


Another example; Your dog lunges and reacts (the majority of reactivity is based in fear) towards dogs/humans/traffic. Your dogs is over their threshold. We call this trigger stacking, or use the bucket concept. This means your dog lacks confidence, calmness, optimism, flexability, arousal down and disengagement. All concepts that can be built upon by using games!


Training concepts gives your dogs the skills it needs for life to be a calm, confident dog that can make correct decisions.



Why Averisve & Alpha Methods Can't Help Reactivity


- I trained Oreo to speak on command for my 'reactive' shot :D - image by River Wilson


The above example has a lot of untrained concepts invovled with reactive behaviour and shows why this simply cannot be handled with dominance training. Aversive and alpha training takes value away from your relationship with your dog. Why? These training styles are not based in the science of how dogs brains work. They're based in fear, pain, intimidation and the mental attitude to dominate your dog. Your dogs trust in you will faulter, they're confidence will decrease, they'll become more pesimistic than optimistic and its not giving them the skills to make the right decisions themselves. In-fact that style of training will only cause reactivity to get worse and even 'leak out' into other problems that didnt exist before.


Punshiment & pain are scary to dogs, and fear becomes a strong predictor in the dogs daily routine. They start to predict unpleassant events, which aids in their anticipation of the trigger; flooding them with nuroadrenaline which is linked to anxiety and stress. This nuroadreline overides thier prefrontal cortex & amygdala; the parts of the brain where higher level processing & emotional regulation take place. The dog literally cannot think through this chemical reaction. This overflows their emotional bucket, which causes their reactive outburts. (Sapolsky, 2017)


This nuroadreline overides thier prefrontal cortex & amygdala; the parts of the brain where higher level processing & emotional regulation take place. The dog literally cannot think through this chemical reaction.

For example: Your dog is mildly reactive to other dogs. You've been advised that your dog is agressive because they want to be alpha or dominate other dogs and is showing dominant beaviour. So now, everytime your dog sees another dog and they react, you punish them to show them you're alpha and they should listen to you.


Lets use an e collor for this example ( all forms of verbal and physical punishment, which includes aggressive tugging and jabbing, also work for this example) :


Your dog initiates an association between pain and the presence of another approaching dog. Instead of fostering a calm and confident response to help your dog navigate the situation, it develops fear linked to the expected pain and the connection between the approaching dog and discomfort. This fear-reactive response results in unpredictable behaviors like growling, lunging, barking, and biting. The intensification of these behaviors contributes to heightened anxiety and stress, potentially leading to chronic stress in your dog.


Your dog...develops fear linked to the expected pain and the connection between the approaching dog and discomfort. This fear-reactive response results in unpredictable behaviors.

But wait, there's more to consider: not only does your dog experience distress when another dog approaches, but it also associates this discomfort with the owner standing behind it, the baby stroller to its side, and the children playing in the distance. Consequently, your dog now links and anticipates pain in connection with three additional factors that were not initially problematic. The problem with this is we don't know what our dogs are associating with the punishment in the environemnt.


This scenario parallels the principles observed in the Little Albert Experiment, where a conditioned fear response was induced in a child, illustrating the adverse impact of associative fear on behavior and emotional well-being (Little Albert Experiment by Watson & Rayner). Importantly, this heightened fear response emphasizes that dogs, like the experiment's subjects, struggle to reason through reactivity.


Serotonin, a potent regulator of emotions, plays a crucial role in mood modulation, fostering positive feelings, and restraining reactive responses. Meanwhile, dopamine contributes to attention focus, fostering a sense of satisfaction. Insufficient levels of these neurotransmitters can lead to irritability, impaired impulse control, heightened reactivity, anxiety and increased sensitivity to pain. Without even knowing it, we could unconciuosly be reinforcing unwanted beaviours with a loud no, because fear is completely subjective to the dogs perspective. Sustained stress and fear are easily created within our dogs with the wrong training, and are a lot harder to rehabiliate!


Without even knowing it, we could unconciously be reinforcing unwanted beaviours with a loud no, because fear is completely subjective to the dogs perspective.

Here's some good news: the concepts in your dogs brain can change & improve. With time, they can shift naturally, or you can guide the change yourself. It's all about focusing on these concepts that need attention with kindness and empathy. It's time we became the loving guiding companions our dogs need us to be.


How do games help train these concepts?


Finlay enjoying his water games. - image by River Wilson

Many games involve problem-solving, memory, and decision-making, stimulating dogs' cognitive functions and activating their "concious contextual learning" in their pre frontal cortex (Sapolsky, 2017). Engaging the mind through games enhances the learning experience, contributes to better understanding and long-term retention of trained behaviours. You also have a super fun time with your pup, adding value, trust and team work to your relationship!


So, what are the four pillars that redefine how we approach training?:


  1. Training concepts over behaviours

  2. Using play to train concepts

  3. Teaching dogs how to learn

  4. Giving them life skills over obediance



Engaging the mind through games enhances the learning experience, contributes to better understanding and long-term retention of trained behaviours


Now, let's talk about the perks:


Improved Behaviour


Teaching dogs to be calm, to disengage from distractions, and to exercise self-control leads to more polite and obedient behavior. It helps dogs make thoughtful choices and stay well-mannered.


Enhanced Safety


Understanding proximity and the ability to call your dog back are key for ensuring your dog's safety in various situations, preventing them from wandering into danger or engaging in risky behaviors.


Regulate Emotions

Self control, flexability & calmness helps regulate emotions and stress. They learn to cope with anxiety and frustration, ultimately leading to a happier, more relaxed canine companion.


Social Interactions


These concepts help dogs read body language, leading to smoother social interactions. Respecting personal space & fostering pleasant exchanges. Their self-control and disengagement skills enable balanced and enjoyable social play.



One mayjor concept we take away from this training is: Train FOR the sitution, not IN the siutation. It's all about setting our dogs up for success. Celebrating their small achievments is every step towards them mastering these concepts. If your dog is over their threshold and displaying behaviours such as lunging, barking and growling, simply take it back a step to a level your dog can cope with. Quite literally, back up and create some distance so your dog isn't so stressed out! Make it easy for them to succeed! Show them the behaviours you do want instead! Your dog becomes what they practise, so if you play training games consistantly, the unwanted behaviours will start to dissapear as you see the new behaviours that your activitly training, emerge!


Conclusion


In summary, Concept Training with Positive Reinforcement is more than a method, it's a philosophy. It revolutionizes dog training, prioritizing adaptability, intelligent decision-making, and overall well-being over traditional obedience. Unlike aversive methods, it embraces empathy and scientific understanding, steering clear of fear-driven techniques. Drawing parallels with the Little Albert Experiment, it highlights the detrimental impact of fear-based training on a dog's reasoning ability.


Through neurotransmitter regulation and the development of life skills, concept training nurtures calm, confident, and decision-capable dogs.


The four pillars emphasize training concepts, teaching dogs to learn through play, and prioritizing life skills. The benefits include improved behavior, enhanced safety, emotion regulation, and positive social interactions. The key takeaway is to train for success using concepts that will give your dog skills for a variety of situation in their life.


Fostering a positive & supportive environment for dogs to thrive and gradually diminish unwanted behaviors. Embracing concept training with positive reinforcement builds a partnership on understanding, trust, and shared growth.



Oreo enjoying a well deserved play - image by River Wilson


Until next time NBN Crew!




References


Levine, P.A., 2015. Trauma and memory: Brain and body in a search for

the living past: A practical guide for understanding and working with

traumatic memory. North Atlantic Books.


Lindsay, S.R (2000), Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour & Training.

Vol 1 Adaptation and Learning, Iowa State University Press, Iowa, USA.


McEwen, B.S. (2007). 'Physiology and neurobiology of stress and

adaptation: central role of the brain.', Physiological Reviews, 87:873-

904


McMillan, F.D. ed., 2020. Mental health and we/I-being in animals.

GABI.


Mills, D. et al (2013) Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal

Clinical Behaviour, 1st Edition. J Wiley and Sons Ltd


Passalacqua, C., Marshall-Pescini, S., Merola, I., Palestrini, C. and

Previde, E.P., 2013. Different problem-solving strategies in dogs

diagnosed with anxiety-related disorders and control dogs in an

unsolvable task paradigm. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 147(1- 2),

pp.139-148.



Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page