How Dogs Think and Learn

QEL code 1025
CPD 10
Estimated Study Time 10 Hours
Study mode Online
Start Date Anytime
Award type Certificate
Assessment Method Short answer questions to confirm your knowledge
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Course fees £97

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Unit # 1

Canine emotion is a large part of dogs’ learning, which is explored in this unit. The distinction between learning and performance and the timelines of early learning, the theory of mind, and mental processes that dogs go through when learning are also examined within this unit.

Unit # 2

Unit 2 examines the theories behind classical and operant conditioning and how these relate to canine learning and thinking. Also contained within the unit is the role that motivation plays in canine learning, and how we can utilise this when thinking of a training programme.

How Dogs Think

Can dogs think? Are they able to perceive their world as humans do? Are dogs able to be self-aware or experience emotions?

Dogs sense their world and take in information gathered from it. They learn to modify their behaviour depending on the information gained.

Dogs are equipped with several specialised sensory organs evolved to obtain biologically significant information from the environment. These various sensory systems gather and process chemical and physical inputs, translate them into electrical impulses and then conduct the raw sensory data to the brain.

Once in the brain, the sensory data are further processed and encoded into representations about the surrounding environment. Dogs are totally dependent on the reliability of this information processing for the procurement of vital biological needs and all forms of adaptive learning.

How Dogs Learn

In order to understand what our dogs perceive we need to understand the concepts of umwelt and innenwelt. Estonian born biologist Jakob von Uexkull created these concepts in the early 1900’s to illustrate how different organisms within the same ecosystem interpret signals differently and find some signals salient and others inconsequential.

Umwelt – one’s environment

Innenwelt – an organism’s inner world

Umwelt is the part of world an organism can detect – how their world is perceived using their unique perceptual systems.
Innenwelt is the sense of self.

Humans view their world through human perspectives. Canines tend to rely on their sense of smell more than they do vision.

According to animal behaviourist Dr Temple Grandin, animals not only perceive the world differently, they conceive it differently too. They think and remember in pictures and with associations.

Traditionally we have been told there are 5 senses, but some neurologists believe there are as many as 21 different senses or even more.

Dogs use their senses to learn about their world and surroundings. We consider the sense of smell, olfaction, touch, taste, hearing and vision.

Primates are very visually orientated, but a dog’s world is primarily comprised of smells and sounds.

Senses not only shape how we view the world, but they also shape how we process information and interact with other organisms. If we are to understand our dogs, we need to understand how they perceive the world.

The concept of umwelt is essential for understanding how dogs view their world.

The extreme behaviourist’s view that animals’ behaviour is to be observed and measured but not interpreted prevailed through much of the last century.

However, we have come a long way since Descartes view that animals are mindless machines or the Pavlovian or Skinnerian assessments that animals simply react to their environment reflexively and/or behave only in response to positive or negative reinforcement.

The stumbling block now, in terms of recognising animals in their full intellectual capacity, is whether they are capable of secondary emotions, because secondary emotions (which develop from primary emotions) require greater cognitive ability and acceptance that animals have “theory of mind.”

Theory of mind implies self-awareness and the ability to understand that other individuals may possess information and agendas that are different from their own. Caregivers have reported their dogs using deception with other resident dogs in order to take a resource.

Unfortunately, these occurrences are spontaneous and cannot be subjected to scientific verification.


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