Hierarchy of needs in dog training – Cambridge Puppy Training


Hierarchy of dogs needs

In this world of puppy training (and indeed dog training), it’s SO important to keep learning. To keep gaining knowledge, keep reading articles, keep following fellow trainers who work along the same ethos that you do, all the while listening to other trainers who may do things differently, but whom you can still learn a lot from. On this note, I recently read an article discussing ‘The Hierarchy of Dogs Needs (HDN)’.

This HDN was brought about by a lady called Linda Michaels and it’s based very much around a positive approach to training our dogs. It emphasises the importance of the basic needs of a dog to be met, with research showing a dog is far less likely to show unusual or abnormal behaviours if they are met adequately. The HDN is supported by scientific evidence and is very interesting to look at. I’ve attached the picture but wanted to detail it a little bit more! What do all these steps in the pyramid mean? Let’s have a look at them in order.

Biological needs – physical health and requirements. The use of any equipment which may cause pain or fear is hindering any training progress you will make. Studies have shown a dog in distress or pain will struggle to learn and struggle to retain information. We’re also thinking of things such as nutrition, exercise requirements, environment with regards to weather etc, temperature control and general safety.

Emotional needs – it as been long understood through various scientific research that animals feel a huge variety of emotions, just as we do. The biological needs and emotional needs of a dog will go largely hand in hand. Studies have shown us a dog is capable of feeling fear, sadness and pain but with the provision of the biological needs they will be capable of happiness, pleasure, comfort and security. All animals like, and indeed NEED to feel secure. It’s survival and it’s seen throughout all mammalian species. To feel secure, we need trust, we need protection from danger or perceived threats. Dogs are, after all, animals, they are not mini hairy humans, and these are all essential to a dogs wellbeing. Having a good understanding of the relationship you share with you dog will help you immensely in your training, you need to ensure your dog does indeed trust you, and feel secure with you, this can also be hugely beneficial with any kind of fear/aggression behaviours. Another point Linda Michaels’ makes is with regards to gentle grooming and gentle handling, very important to consider this side of a dogs emotional response to such activities.

Social needs – dogs are, like us, social animals. However, we often presume our dog should be hugely social with every single dog they see, this is somewhat a misguided belief, when you think of dogs as ANIMALS who will compete for most resources going. It’s a big ask to expect our dogs to be ‘best friends’ with every single dog they come across. We DO want to encourage positive and non-threatening interactions from a very young age however, to hugely increase the chances of our pups being fairly relaxed with different dogs. We’re not expecting our dog to be in love with every dog he meets, but we’re expecting his social skills to be fairly fluent enough to be able to communicate effectively with conspecifics (within same species).

Cognition – to define, “process of acquiring, processing, storing and acting on information from the environment through experience”. In relation to dogs, we can think about problem-solving abilities, or decision-making, and opening our pups up to the realisation they do have a choice, the choices they make will dictate whether reinforcement is forthcoming.

So, essentially, Linda Michaels’ suggests all of these HDN’s should be met. They are in part merely common sense, however if we think of our own dogs and our own puppy training, are we ensuring ALL of these are needs are met? It’s interesting to read through them and have a think about that.

Additionally Linda Michaels’ goes on to describe the force-free methods of training and behaviour modification, to increase, decrease, redirect and change emotional responses. We are fairly fluent in these but I’ll detail them to finish off.

  • Management (ie.baby gates, puppy proofing rooms/gardens, longlines)
  • Antecedent modification (essentially what happens prior to the trigger appearing)
  • Positive reinforcement (we’ve talked about capturing, shaping, lure/reward training)
  • Differential reinforcement (reinforcing other/incompatible behaviour rather than the undesirable behaviour)
  • Classical and counter-conditioning (see previous posts on my Facebook page, we change the emotional response)
  • Desensitization (decrease in response to stimuli through repeated and gradual exposure)

Now, I quite liked this HDN when I saw it, it may seem fairly obvious stuff, but when we look a bit closer, can we be sure we’re meeting ALL our pups needs? It’s interesting to have a look through and see. It’s all very interesting and I’d be delighted to know your thoughts!

For more information just get in touch!
Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk
Website: http://www.cambridgepuppytraining.com
Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgepuppytraining

With thanks to Linda Michaels and Marc Bekoff Ph.D (Psychology Today)


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