How dogs learn and how to effectively teach them

Disclosure: Our recommendations are based on our testing, research and analysis. We may earn a commission on products purchased using links on this page.

Dog training doesn’t need to be complicated or frustrating if you understand how a dog learns.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Dog Trainer and Professional Blogger,

Dog training doesn’t need to be complicated or frustrating if you understand how a dog learns.  In fact, it can be rather enjoyable when you use common sense and follow the practice of consistency, repetition, and timing when training your dog.

What this means

If you think of a dog as a 2-year-old autistic child, you will have a pretty decent idea of what is required to teach them.  I’m not suggesting that a dog is just like a child rather that there are behavioral similarities between them and other species.  Short, simple phrases, using words for actions you’d like your dog to continue, consistency, repetition, and, of course, timing are all necessary to help a dog to learn commands and the rules of the house.


Dogs live in a black and white world, so training should be clear and consistent to be effective.   What one member of the family uses for a command (hand signals, words, even rules) should be the same as everyone else interacting with your dog.  This reduces confusion and frustration in the dog and their handlers.  A good example of this is how a command is defined.  Does SIT mean the dog can get up on its own or with a release word?  Can the dog bark in a SIT, or should it remain silent?  When your dog knows what is expected of them, they feel more comfortable and less stressed.


Dogs are very similar to humans when it comes to repetition.  When given a command, if it is not repeated in 24 hours, the memory of the command is absent for the average dog.  The good news is if the command is repeated daily for 1 to 5 Days, the task goes to short-term memory.  (On average, it takes repeating a command and following through with it about 150 times to go into short-term memory.)  If you continue to repeat the command and enforce it daily, within 30 days, the task will move to long-term memory.  So, it really doesn’t take too long for a dog to learn a command.

Improvement in performance and reliability continues as the training becomes more effective.  An expected learning curve would be as follows:

  •  Average student and average dog – 12 weeks for a task to be 85 % reliable.
  • A good student and good dog – 10 weeks for 85% reliability.
  • Poor student and average dog – 16 weeks for 85% reliability.

Of course, environmental factors (trainer effectiveness, task complexity, etc.) also influence the time frame, as do the dog’s genetic factors.


Dog trainers have learned that dogs live in the present.  They don’t hold grudges or feel the need to get even when they don’t get their way. Dogs will associate a reward or punishment for what they are doing at the moment.  This means you have about 5 seconds to praise or correct your dog for an action.  If you don’t do something within this time period, you’ve missed your opportunity to educate them.


Other factors are needed to help make your dog more reliable and easier to train, but without consistency, repetition, and timing, your efforts will not be very effective.  And when you are ineffective, your dog loses respect for you, causing more training issues and bad behaviors—something no dog owner wants.

Let’s talk dogs, or even better, let’s learn about dogs.  Set aside some time to receive Spike’s dog blogs by Acme Canine.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Please give us feedback on this post:

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?