So often, I tune into the public radio channel or flip open a science magazine, and my mind begins connecting hundreds, thousands, millions of thoughts about people and animals. One of my favorite topics - one that consistently gives me the chills - is the topic of childhood learning and development. What in the world does a human toddler have to do with dog behavior or training? Much more than you'd think!
One researcher, Dr. Cohen, supports this idea because he believes that "every child has an inherent drive and natural affinity for learning. For example, place a child into an environment where he is only spoken to in English, and he will learn English. Place another child into an environment where he is only spoken to in Spanish, and he will learn Spanish." Kids, in a sense, are naturally primed to learn, and they love doing it! Similarly, all animals - children, cats, birds, and, especially, dogs - are also primed to learn. From the moment a puppy is born, it is learning about the world. Dogs are always making connections, always wanting to understand their environment - and you, their owner - better.
So, in fact, our challenge as dog owners and trainers isn't about finding ways to make the dog love learning. Rather, as Dr. Cohen suggests, the challenge is learning how to harness animals' natural affinity for constant learning. It's not about "sparking interests". That's pointless, he argues. Kids already have interests. The challenge is to develop and promote those interests. The challenge is to support learning, not to stifle it.
Our job is not to ask, "How do I make this dog enjoy training?". Rather, we should ask, "What activities can I use to harness this dog's natural love of learning, and how can I guide it towards the correct behavior?" It's a subtle difference, but the smallest training tweaks can generate the biggest changes. No dog is ever too "stupid" to learn, but the responsibility is on us humans to help them practice the right behaviors.