Doggie See, Doggie Do – The Great Capacity for Imitation

Many of us has experienced the situation of owning a rambunctious dog who charged around the house, obeyed no command or escaped through an open gate before you could call the name he suddenly doesn’t recognize.  Yet somehow, these unruly creatures attach themselves to a family member as their best and constant companion.  More often than not, this person has absolutely no experience or knowledge in training dogs but the dog will move when they move, sit or lay down when their companion sits down, all with only an occasional “Good boy” for a reward.  There is no system, only consistency.  Many would refer to this as dog teaching or dog learning.
It is slower than, not as systematic as, other common forms of training such as food rewards, clickers, electric collars and choke chains but the results may be deeper and longer lasting.  There are no number statistics or studies being conducted on dogs educated in this manor but I’m sure it is substantial.  It basically relies on the dog’s instinct of curiosity, the desire to please, and ability to imitate behavior and recognize emotions and words, all of which have been enhanced through thousands of years of living with humans.  This also requires quality time from the human, an interest in being with the dog.  Praise and rewards are given, not by any program or schedule, but according to the person’s nature and it does not have to involve food.  Referred to as the social theory of learning, it views learning as the social endeavor involving imitation of behavior being demonstrated or verbally described.
To further study social learning in dogs, a graduate student in ethology developed the Do As I Do (DAID) method where trainers use standard reward-based techniques when teaching the dogs to associate gestures with the command, “Do It!”  The study compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks which increased in complexity, from simple – knocking over a glass to a complex task – opening or closing a drawer to compound tasks – hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a drawer and removing a purse.  Objects in the tasks were not part of the dog’s normal repertoire so mastering the task could not be considered learning.  There was no difference in performance between the clicker-trained dogs and the DAID dogs in the simple task but as the tasks became more difficult, all of that changed.  The Do As I Do dogs performed better as more of them learned the task in the fifteen minute allotted time frame than the clicker trained dogs.
No one knows for certain how dogs make the connections but what the results really favor is providing trainers with another method from which to choose when providing the training bested suited to their dog’s needs.  The keys to success are home schooling, time, patience, and devotion which come from discipline often needed more for the human than the dog.