Words of Woofdom- The Learning “Sweet Spot!”
Take a moment to think about the environment that works best for you learning something new. While everyone has different learning styles, in general, an environment that is quiet and comfortable is going to be a better environment for learning. If you are upset, at a party with 20 of your closest friends, or are very scared, that would not be the most effective environment to learn something new like a new language. Let’s think about our dogs’ learning environment. Dogs are always learning, but they are most comfortable at home or in a place they are familiar with. When we take our dogs to a new place with lots of new sniffs, that may make it more difficult for them to focus on what you are trying to teach them. If your dog is fearful, anxious, or is barking and lunging at another dog or object, your dog may not be able to learn very effectively due to being “over threshold.” What we want is the “sweet spot” when there is a little stress but the level of focus and emotion is such that the dog can learn something new and not be overwhelmed. When humans or dogs are too overwhelmed by something it is difficult to focus and learn something new. For example, it would be very difficult to teach a dog to not be reactive to skateboards in the middle of an active skate park. We want to keep our dogs below their threshold and in the “sweet spot” zone to achieve more effective retention of what is learned. Easing them into the learning under low stress conditions will yield the best results, than later, as the behavior develops, you can increase the distractions so that even a skate park will not be so scary or distracting.