Dog Training: The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve (LC) is a graphical representation of how learning increases over time. As a general rule, the more experience, knowledge and wisdom you have regarding a specific skill or topic, the greater the learning, and the greater the proficiency you develop over time. The vertical axis of the graph is the amount you have learned. The horizontal axis is the time elapsed. The curve starts at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes. The slope of the curve varies over time. The assumption is the steeper the slope, the harder the task is to learn, but also the faster the subject is progressing with the learning.

I have many thoughts regarding using the LC concept when it comes to dog training. Here are two, of many, that I teach…

First, I think it helps students to understand how learning takes place, including the concept of the LC. Depending upon the student, I delve into these concepts to some degree with every dog I’m training. It applies not only to the student, but also to the dog. I feel if the student understands what to expect of themselves, and their dog, they will be more patient and diligent with their efforts. There is an old saying (guess where I got this quote):

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”

In other words, I think it helps to set some expectations about learning, and what it is going to take, at the beginning of the lessons. That helps students to be patient with themselves and their dogs, not expecting unrealistic results with no effort. Thus, I go over this as needed.

Second, learning isn’t always easy. It can be difficult for the student and the dog. The bigger the problem, the more learning that has to be invested in the training. Sometimes learning isn’t so fun. It can be embarrassing, for example, to be clumsy at doing a new thing. Students have to perform in front of me, and sometimes in public in front of others. That can be a difficult thing to do for many. Learning can also be hard for the dog. The longer a bad habit or behavioral tendency has been allowed to go on, the more new learning it will take to change things. This can be extraordinarily hard for dogs that have been traumatized or severely neglected, or both. There are no miracle cures here. I teach students to embrace the hardship, instead of avoiding it. Work it through. It is difficult for everyone. I also let them know I’m there to support their efforts. Unfortunately, not everyone has the character to stick things out, so they shut down or quit. Dog training is as much about character development in the student as it is about teaching the dog new ways and skills.

The LC plays its role along the way. At first, the student may find it is a steep uphill climb, slow going, and can be a grind. But, instead of quitting, the good students dig inside and keep going, even if the time frames are long. It isn’t so fun to work on a problem for a year or more, but that doesn’t mean the problem can’t be overcome or made reasonably manageable. I have to provide constant contact, assistance, encouragement, correction, example, and assisted effort to see through the most difficult problems. I help keep the learning going up, instead of it falling backwards.

I live the Learning Curve. The more you ponder the concept, the more you can get out of the dog training. I embrace it myself, too. I am constantly pushing to gain higher levels over time. It isn’t always fun, and some life lessons can be hard, but I’m a better person for it. My students are better people, and their dogs are better dogs, when we work our way up the Learning Curve. Try it sometime!

Intro Video