Dog Social Learning Boom

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE

As more and more people discover social cognitive learning theory (SCT), I’m reminded just how slow the dog training and behaviour industry evolve. I practice and teach social learning on a regular basis. Actually, I’ve been writing about SCT for over a decade now. Although people claim social learning is new, rest assured, it’s not. The science of imitation in the form of Do As I Do (DAID) has been around since the 50s. 

Social Learning Brief History 
Once upon time, two scientists by the name of Keith Hayes and Catherine Hayes did a research on a chimpanzee's ability to imitate (Hayes and Hayes, 1952). In their paper, the researches mention their chimp learned the rule of imitation and would copy a signal after the request “Do this”. From then on, the Do As I Do protocol was born. More recently, advances in dog imitation come from Ádám Miklósi’s leading team of researchers, more specifically, Claudia Fugazza (2014, 2015). For those who don't know, Claudia gave a weekend seminar at the Dogue Shop during the summer of 2017.

Social Learning Experience
My experience with SCT via imitation proves to be the fastest, most efficient training approach, and proves to be a wonderful complement to other training methods. Eleven years ago, I foretold my clients and students SCT would revolutionise dog training. It does. Science finally caught up, and we are happy the Dogue Shop school is leading the way. Every other day, Albear and I  work on a special SCT project and will share info once available.

Meanwhile, We use SCT to teach many aspects of behaviour varying from emotional control to cognition, trust, and attachment. Because social learning requires cognition and memory, certain dogs will outperform others. That should not come as a surprise. The environment is also a predictor of learning; therefore, we modify space as needed to facilitate animal learning. 

The side effects to SCT are resilience and fatigue, the good kind. I’ve talked about social learning and resilience in the past, so if you follow my blog you know what I’m talking about. Resilience serves to heighten emotional threshold, which allows dogs to evolve in their environment as best as they possibly can. DAID will help us achieve that prerogative, faster and more efficiently.

Future of Dog Social Learning
Social learning will not replace behaviourism; it will complement it. With my experience, I foresee other learning theories, which will benefit dog training in the next decade, hopefully the sooner the better. People need better human intervention strategies, clients need a less expensive and time consuming training method, and dogs need clarity and direction from people, not commands and reprimands. 

The future of dog training will change in the next ten years, and I’m very excited to see other trainers and schools embark on the social learning bandwagon. Until then, I’ll keep you posted on new learning theories which will undoubtedly change the forthcoming decade. 



- Fugazza, C. (2014). Social learning and imitation in dogs (Canis familiaris). Doctoral Thesis. Eötvös Loránd University Faculty of Science Doctoral, Hungary. 

- Fugazza, C. and, Miklósi, Á. (2015). Social learning in dog training: The effectiveness of the Do as I do method compared to shaping/clicker training. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 

- Hayes, K. and Hayes, C. (1952). Imitation in a Home-raised Chimpanzee. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology. Vol. 45, 5.  pp. 450-459 doi: 10.1037/h0053609

Leave a comment

    Add comment