Category "Fun Facts"


Just to recap what you’d have learnt in puppy classes;

reinforcing a behaviour makes that behaviour more likely to recur.

When we ‘positively reinforce’ a dog for a behaviour, we’re adding something of value to that particular dog as a consequence of the dog performing that behaviour.  In puppy class, the ‘reinforcer’ (reward) is normally food, as most dogs like food, and food is quick and easy to deliver, meaning you can practice more times within a given time period.  We normally couple the food with praise so that eventually the food and the praise can become interchangeable.

Why Reinforce?

Are we bribing the dogs or rewarding them?  No, we’re not bribing the dogs; rewards are earned for good behaviour, bribes are offered to avoid or stop bad behaviour (which we don’t do anyway, you’ll have learnt other methods of avoiding unwanted behaviour during the puppy course).

Dogs are really good at understanding consequences, so by rewarding their ‘good’ behaviour they’ll quickly learn what you’re asking of them.

When you boss asks you to do something, do you do it because you respect him?  Possibly, but more likely you’ll do it because you’re being paid!  The harder the job, the more you’d expect to be paid, or conversely, the more you enjoy your job, the more willing you’d be to do it for free.

We don’t always want the dog to be reliant on us having food in order to do what we ask, so we need to phase out the continuous  rewards and make them more random.  We do this using ‘reinforcement schedules’, also known as ‘reinforcement patterns’.  There are 3 types of schedules.

Continuous Reinforcement Schedule

A continuous reinforcement pattern reinforces/rewards the dog every time he does what you wanted.

In human terms, this is like you putting money into a vending machine and getting a bar of chocolate out; your reward for putting money into the vending machine is to get the bar of chocolate that you wanted.

This is a good reinforcement pattern to start off with.

Fixed Reinforcement Schedule

A fixed reinforcement pattern reinforces/rewards the dog after he does what you wanted a set number of times, for example the dog gets a treat after every third sit.

In human terms, this is like a quarterly bonus;  you get a £500 reward every 3 months, providing you hit your target.

This is not a particularly effective reinforcement schedule, as what tends to happen is that productivity increases just before the bonus is due, then lapses until just before the next bonus is due.

Variable Reinforcement Schedule

A variable reinforcement pattern reinforces/rewards the dog after he does what you wanted, but randomly, so the dog doesn’t know whether he’s going to get the treat or not.

In human terms, this is like putting money into a slot machine; you put your money in, even though you don’t particularly expect to get anything out, because when you do win, it’s really exciting!

This is the best reinforcement schedule as it’s addictive and hard to break!

Where to start?

If the best reinforcement pattern is the variable reinforcement schedule, why not just start with that?

It’s easiest to start with the continuous reinforcement pattern; it’s consistent and easier for the dog to learn that ‘good’ behaviour has ‘good’ consequences.

In human terms, if you use a vending machine in work every day, and every day you get your bar of chocolate, there’s an element of trust that by putting your money in the machine, you’ll get your bar of chocolate out;  you have a good ‘reinforcement history’ with the vending machine at work.

How to change?

Let’s take ‘sit’ as an example.  Firstly you’ll need a really good ‘reinforcement history’ with sit, meaning that you’ve consistently rewarded the sit for a good length of time.   The longer the reinforcement history, the less likely your dog is to think that you’re ‘broken’ if your dog doesn’t get a reward.

In human terms, if the vending machine at work, which you’ve been using for the past year, doesn’t dispense your bar of chocolate  when you put your money in, you’re much less likely to consider the machine to be broken than if you put your money into a vending machine at the train station, one that you’ve used only a couple of times in the past year.  You’ve got a good ‘reinforcement history’ with the machine at work, it’s never failed you before, so you’re more likely to put more money in, with you assuming at first that maybe the coin you put in was faulty.  You have far less history with the vending machine in the train station, so you’re going to consider that machine to be broken much quicker than you’d consider the vending machine at work to be broken and stop putting money in it.

So, the shorter the ‘reinforcement history’, the easier and quicker it is to ‘break’ the dog’s behaviour, the better the ‘reinforcement history’, the more likely your dog is to try again, even when not rewarded.

However!  Let’s consider the vending machine at work:

You put your money in, you get nothing out, this is unusual it must be a faulty coin.  You put another coin in and get nothing out.  Although you have trusted this machine in the past, you’re going to quite quickly realise that this machine no longer gives you chocolate, so not only do you stop putting money in and lose faith in the machine, but you’re probably going to get pretty frustrated at having put so much money and effort in, with nothing in return.

It’s important therefore to change from a continuous reinforcement pattern to a variable reinforcement pattern quite gradually, to avoid frustration,  and to make sure that the random reward is something that the dog really values, to get him addicted to sitting when asked.

Don’t forget that praise is free, and should be used as on a continual reinforcement basis.


Dogs are excellent at reading our body language, much better than we read them, although if you want to learn more about a dog’s body language, this is a good article.

Dogs find it much easier to read what people are saying with their bodies than with spoken language.  In a study of 25 dogs who were taught both a hand signal and a verbal command for various behaviours, the dogs responded accurately to 99% of hand signals 82% of verbal commands.  What was particularly interesting though was that when the dogs where given both a verbal command and a hand signal, but they conflicted, for example the verbal command ‘sit’ a coupled with the hand signal for ‘lie’, 70% of the dogs chose to obey the hand signal rather than the verbal command.

It’s good to have both a hand signal and a verbal command; as your dog gets older, he may loose either his eyesight or his hearing.

In puppy class, initially we normally teach a hand signal as the luring action turns in to the hand signal.

To avoid trying to teach the dog too many things at the same time, we don’t add a verbal command until the dog is reliably performing the behaviour using the hand signal.

Dogs can have multiple ‘commands’ for one behaviour; for example the action of raising your hand to your shoulder, the word ‘sit’, the word ‘hello’, stopping at a curb, getting the lead out could all mean sit to your dog.

When adding a new command to a behaviour, you use the new command first, followed by the command that the dog already knows.   For example, ‘sit’ followed by the hand signal.  The second command can be phased out over time.

Avoid using a verbal command unless you KNOW that your dog will perform the action.  Saying ‘sit, sit, sit, sit’ to your dog will not only devalue the word, but you’ll be more and more frustrated, making the training no fun for the dog.


Pups start crawling 2 – 3 days after birth and the use their nose as a sensory and a temperature probe, helping them to orient to their mum.

Their eyes open in the second week but as their retinas aren’t fully formed yet they can only see shadows.

It’s important that the pup has human contact during this time.  Mild stress such as short periods away from the mum and handling by people will allow the pup to better deal with stress later on in life.

In the third week the pup’s ears begin to open.  This is a great time to start to habituate pups to everyday sounds as their hearing is still limited, but will improve daily up to seven weeks old.

By eight weeks old, the puppy’s brain will have increased to five times its original size, and his brain won’t be fully developed until he’s between nine months and one year old.  That means that when born, a pup has only approximately 10% of his adult brain.

Puppies who come from a litter that is predominately one gender are more likely to take on the gender characteristics of the rest of the litter, for example a lone female in a litter of males is more likely to cock her leg.

Pups go through a ‘sensitive period of socialisation’ roughly up to 13 weeks of age.  Generally, most of this time is spent in the birth home, so choose your ‘breeder’ wisely.  Puppies rehomed from outbuildings so significantly more fear and less likely to bond with new family. Puppies raised in a family home had less behavioural problems.  Puppies born to stressed mothers are more likely to grow up to be fearful and if the mother is stressed during the later stages of pregnancy, the puppies are likely to be emotionally reactive and to have reduced learning ability.

Dogs who attend puppy classes are more likely to stay in their first home.


Did you know?

  • Dogs are predators so their eyes face forward.  Animals that are preyed upon tend to have eyes on the side of their face to give them a wider view of the world so they can keep an eye out for danger.  However dogs’ eyes are placed more to the side of their heads than humans, giving them a more panoramic view of the world than us.
  • Dogs don’t need eyebrows in the same way as humans do to stop sweat getting into their eyes, as dogs only sweat from the pads of their feet.  Where dogs have markings that look like eyebrows, the markings can facilitate communication as the markings accentuate the movement of the eyes.
  • Dogs find direct eye contact threatening – don’t stare at a dog.
  • A plasma TV refreshes at a rate of 60Hz, in other words the screen is refreshed 60 times per second.  Since this is above a human’s flicker resolution ability of 55Hz, the image seems continuous and the gives us the illusion of continuity.  Because dogs can resolve flickers at 75Hz, the TV probably appears to be rapidly flickering to dogs.  This may explain why most dogs do not watch the TV, much less recognise objects on the screen.
  • Dogs’ eyes have fewer cones than humans, which means that they don’t have the full range of colour vision that we do.
  • The pupil in a dog’s eye is larger than humans, which lets in more light, but results in a loss of depth of field.
  • Dogs have a much higher proportion of rods in their eyes than we do, which gives them better visibility in low light.
  • Dogs’ eyes can produce tears, but dogs don’t weep.
  • Dogs seem to have eyes that are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment and have excellent motion perception, which is particularly useful to herding breeds and sighthounds.

Photo by Jose Rocha from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,