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Accueil veterinaires comportementalistes Veille bibliographique veterinaires comportementalistes Understanding how dogs learn: importance in training and behavior modification

Understanding how dogs learn: importance in training and behavior modification

Karen L. Overall

Congrès : 2006 World Congress WSAVA/FECAVA/CSAVA

Behavior modification is nothing more than the process of altering an animal’s behavior. This discussion addresses how learning affects the overall phenotype, how the effects of the gross environment interact with the phenotypes, and how environmental effects at all mechanistic levels contribute to secondary changes in the phenotype.

The classic client and veterinarian response to having "behavior mod" recommended as part of a treatment plan is to exclaim that they "don’t have time for that". What is not understood here is that we engage in behavior modifi cation either actively or passively every hour of the day and in everything we do. The basic tenets of behaviour modifi cation treatment are not complex, and are put into action whether or not we consciously acknowledge or recognize that this is so. Accordingly, clients are often unconsciously and accidentally employing principles associated with learning and behavior mod, and inadvertently doing an excellent job of reinforcing the behaviours about which they are most distressed!! Our focus should be to help clients understand that learning occurs all the time and that we can shape the direction, rate, and complexity of the learning process with conscious effort. This does not mean that the clients ‘must’ engage in complex active behavior mod. It does mean that they can use small, relatively passive techniques to effect huge changes.

The problem with changing any behavior is 2 fold: (1) inertia is a powerful force, and (2) breaking behaviors down into elements that require change and understanding how to change them can be diffi cult to do. This difficulty lies in understanding exactly what is called for in the behavior modifi cation technique of choice and in the timing of the client’s response to the dog’s behavior and communicatory gestures. Before any client can change any animal’s behavior – or their own - they MUST recognize (1) what normal signaling is, (2) what signals are associated with the problem they wish to change, and (3) what signals precede #2. Two examples will help make this clear.

 

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