Build Pavlov's Dog

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When I was in High School I became aware of Dr Ivan Pavlov and his experiments with dogs. His laboratory subjects learned that whenever they heard a bell food would be forthcoming. Very soon Dr Pavolv’s dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell. This was not a decision on the part of the dog – it was an automatic physiological response to stimulus; a conditioned response.

To bring it a little closer to home think about this. For me, when I hear “Mexican” music I think about Mexican food. I become hungry and I salivate. I LOVE spicy Hispanic foods. Hearing music I associate with this experience makes me happy, and enthused, and hungry!

 For yourself, is there a song that brings back memories, such as a first date or a first dance or that first true love? And from a darker side PTSD sufferers know full well the “triggers” that exist in life and how to mindfully navigate them. These conditioned automatic responses are powerful and lasting.

Puppies learn on speed dial – every experience is new. A puppy at three weeks of age has little caution. He is curious to the point of lacking self preservation. What a wonderful window of opportunity from a training standpoint! If I, as a trainer, make sure that every experience a young puppy has with his vast new environment has a positive outcome from an emotional standpoint I am building Pavlov’s dog – I am conditioning that puppy to believe that every new experience is fascinating and that he will be safe and successful in investigating it.

Think about the life of an LGD. The night is full of noises and scents. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends. A young pup foisted into an environment like this, particularly a single pup, may become reactive and fearful when presented with new experiences. Enter Pavlov’s dog. A pup that is taught that he can handle new experiences is thoughtful in this circumstance. He is discerning; he is thinking and not just reactive. This is powerful stuff and these are lifelong skills.

For many people the term “dog training” brings to mind skills like sit, stay, or heel; that isn’t quite what I do here. The training I do with my dogs creates a learning landscape, as I see it. Using Pavlov’s behavioral theory, what I have learned through the Karen Pryor Academy, Puppy Culture protocols, and what training my many Maremmas has taught me I have built a training program for our puppies that is tailored to the specialized work asked of LGDs.

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