Trying to Teach Your Dog New Tricks? Consider This Training Method

Training Your Pet Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new method of dog training, called the “do as I do” technique, has received a lot of attention in recent years. Researchers in Hungary recently compared the new method, which involves social learning, with traditional clicker training, which uses individual learning.
  • The Budapest study involved teaching two sets of dog/owner pairs three different types of object-related actions using the two different training methods. The dogs were trained on new actions both simple and complex, and also sequences of actions. The owners were given 15 minutes to train their dogs to do the new behaviors.
  • The researchers concluded that for training on simple actions, both methods worked equally well. However, the do-as-I-do method was more successful for training complex actions and sequences of actions.
  • Whether the do-as-I-do method will catch on with dog owners and trainers remains to be seen. Most people tend to use a combination of dog training techniques rather than just one, and intuitively use whichever method(s) work best with the individual dog. The study authors believe their results provide insight into the value of social learning dog training techniques in addition to traditional methods.

By Dr. Becker

A new type of dog training is receiving a lot of attention lately. It's called the "do as I do" approach, and rather than using reward-punishment or a clicker as training aids, it calls on the canine ability to imitate human actions.

Claudia Fugazza and Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, set out to compare the effectiveness of the do-as-I-do method, which depends on social learning, with the shaper/clicker method, which involves individual learning.

Comparing Do-as-I-do and Clicker Training Methods

The goal of the study1 was to teach dogs three different kinds of object-related actions using the two different methods. The study participants were owners and dogs who had earlier completed one or the other type of training. The researchers decided to use previously trained dog and owner pairs so they would have two groups with comparable skills and experience in training.

The study involved training the dogs on new actions both simple and complex, and also sequences of two actions. The training was accomplished in three separate sessions using whichever method the dogs and owners were already familiar with.

The owners were given 15 minutes to train their dogs to perform the new actions. The well-known clicker method trains dogs to link the sound of a click with a treat. Then the clicker is used to deliver positive reinforcement for desired behavior as a dog learns to perform individual parts of complex tasks.

With the do-as-I-do approach, the initial step is to teach the dog to pay attention to the owner, who performs the action the dog needs to learn. The dog is then trained to try to imitate the owner's action on the command "Do it!" The owner continues to do the behavior and the dog continues to try to mimic it until the dog is able to complete the action correctly.

According to the study authors:

"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."

Is Do-as-I-do the Training Method of the Future?

Whether or not do-as-I-do training will really catch on is up for debate.

In an interview with Discovery News, University of California-Davis veterinarian Dr. Liz Stelow points out that "In reality you're pulling from different learning methods." She says it's rare that dog owners stick with just one type of training. "We all intuitively go with what will work with a particular dog," she said.

But Dr. Stelow believes there's always room for improvement when it comes to training our canine companions, and especially assistance dogs. Individual dogs and dog breeds differ in how they learn, so she thinks a larger study comparing training methods involving more dogs and breeds would be beneficial.

Claudia Fugazza, study co-author, feels her study is a good first step in benefitting dog owners and trainers with regard to the do-as-I-do method.

"We acknowledge that many factors can influence the success of different training paradigms; however, these results provide new insights for the applied dog training techniques by suggesting the usefulness of social learning in addition to the widely used methods that rely on individual associative learning," the authors concluded.

For additional reading on the do-as-I-do method, read "Reproducing human actions and action sequences: "Do as I Do!" in a dog, Jozsef Topal, Richard W. Byrne, Adam Miklosi, Vilmos Csanyi."