Study shows 'do-as-I-do' training approach sometimes trumps clicker method

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it also might be a more effective way of training dogs than traditional techniques such as the clicker method.

A recently published study conducted by researchers at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, found that dogs appear to learn complex tasks faster by watching their owners perform the task and then doing their best imitation.

The study pitted the classic operant conditioning approach using the shaper/clicker method against the "do-as-I-do" training approach where the dog watches its owner perform a task and then imitates it.

When setting up the study, the researchers enrolled dogs and owners who had already gained certification in one of the two training methods. Dogs certified in the operant conditioning method were given three actions to learn in 15 minutes using their familiar method, and the do-as-I-do dogs were issued the same challenge using their previously learned training style. The assigned tasks varied from simple to complex.

Results from the study indicated that the two methods produced similar results until the complexity of the tasks began to increase, researchers reported.

"While we did not find a significant difference between the two training methods with regard to simple actions, we found that subjects using the do-as-I-do method outperformed those using shaping/clicker training in the case of complex actions and sequences of two actions," the researchers wrote in their journal article published in Applied Animal Behavior Science.

Liz Stelow, DVM, a veterinarian at UC Davis, told Discovery Channel News that although dogs often are trained using snippets of multiple methods instead of exclusively using one method, additional future studies of this kind could result in improved techniques for training assistance dogs and other pets.

To learn more, read the full study in Applied Animal Behavior Science.

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