Training for pets or many animals is something psychologist call behavior modification.
However this is just a fancy way of teaching and learning. Memory for animals and keeping those memories or behaviors is learning. How long a dog remembers the training for example is also of key importance. Most people are familiar with concepts of reward, and punishment, however there are many misconceptions.
This article is intended to teach some of the basic concepts focusing on dogs as the animal to be trained as well as address some of the myths. The guiding principles are valid psychological principles derived from the behavorial school of thought in the field of psychology.
While these principles will work with many animals, not all animals because of intelligence or other factors are as easily trained. Basic experiments in behavior modification have been done in labs for decades with mice. One of the more interesting experiments, that was success using behavior modification techniques resulted in a mouse being trained to shoot small pieces of crumpled up paper into a tiny basketball net. This of course would be impossible for a dog, so we must consider some limitations of each species when we are considering training.
First and foremost one must remember the key lesson of reinforcement of behavior. If we look at the classic example of how to train a dog to fetch a stick we can find many of the principles for training within that scenario.
Basically a person throws the stick for the dog to fetch, in many cases the behavior has to be modeled or the trick demonstrated, although hilariously this sometimes looks like the dog is training the human to fetch. There are also effective scenarios where scented items are used which the dog is more likely to fetch, as a dog is more likely to fetch something they want like a bone or a favorite toy. Teaching them the other steps requires repetition. In our example once the dog has the idea of taking the item and bringing it back it must be reinforced initially each and every time with a reward. A pat on the head, the phrase "good dog" and then the reward. The dog treat or whatever it is plays a key role, far more important than the words, or the pat on the head although both may become later triggers for behavior. A trigger being something that will cause something like pushing someones buttons so to speak. Reminds them of something or triggers a resulting reaction. In order to provide consistant learning or to reinforce the behavior the dog must get the treat each and every time intially say the first ten times or more to make sure the dog has actually learned the behavior.
Now what is interesting is that for the dog to learn this behavior long term, we must switch from providing the reward each and every time, to every other time or every third time. This is because the dog learns that he or she will get a treat, but that if it does not do so each and every time that it still needs to continue the behavior. Studies in the psychological field have shown this the best way to prevent that behavior from being extinguished. Translation, prevent the dog from forgetting it's training, providing the best form of reminder or reinforcement.
While there are many other tricks and traps to training dogs and animals in general, the above example contains keys for teaching, memory and reinforcement. Studies have found reward to be more effective than punishment, and that also should be kept in mind. The key is understanding how learning intially established as a foundation within the memory, and then looking at how to reinforce it. Once you have mastered these basic ideas, the rest really are just tricks or specifics of the animal in question.
There is quite a bit more information available in the field above and beyond this particular article. For those of you who might wish to learn more about the school of psychological thought called Behaviorism, one can also look at the work of one it's chief proponents, the father of Behaviorism so to speak, B.F. Skinner. Some of his experiments while successful might be somewhat draconian. Many techniques for training have been refined over the years to provide a higher rate of success. Key principles for teaching and learning can be applied not only for pets, but many of these learning principles are valid for children. While we cannot actually compare the two, some learning techniques are universal. Looking more into the science in the psychological field can benefit every pet owner and anyone interested in learning some of the key principles behind training. Other names that might be on interest include Russian trailblazer, Ivan Pavlov, who connected the learning between dogs and the sounds of the footsteps of the man who was feeding them, to learning behaviors.
He further linked ringing a bell with being fed, and was thus able to trigger the dogs hunger with bells by association. These concepts go into more depth about learning and behavior, but for those who wish a more advanced level of knowledge, Pavlovs name is synonymous with the term conditioning. A basic form of learning.
That is what it all comes down to. Good teaching and methods to help pets learn. These powerful and proven tools are beyond mere theory and have been proven in countless case studies. It is only your choice whether to use these effective methods.