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  • Writer's pictureintegritynoseworx

Maslow's hierarchy of needs applied to dogs or dog training.

For my instructional methodology students we discuss Maslow in the context of preparing the learning environment to acknowledge and remove barriers to learning.

So of course I Googled; "Maslow's hierarchy of needs applied to dogs or dog training."

What I noticed is something interesting, I couldn't find a definitive version that makes the link. Several versions exist, each with a confirmation bias hard baked in to prove a point of someone's thesis.

So here's my crack at a thesis statement as to how Maslow's Hierarchy can be applied to dog training.

For dog trainers, it's equally important to think about barriers to learning. That being said, during initial stages we want to set the context of the learning environment and remove or plan for as many barriers to learning as possible.

So for each stage there's a something to think about or consider.

PHYSIOLOGICAL: This step is a pretty easy one to consider and control. We ensure the dog is feed, watered, and rested so that they are able to work. We can manipulate feedings and work rest cycles to to accomplish tasks and must consider sequencing of feedings, rest cycles, and hydration. Our goal is to ensure that we control and consider this as we grow training endurance. During initial stages we may feed less food and change feeding times to after training as to create hunger and in turn hopefully create more drive to work for food. we must be careful though. If we don't ease into this we may create a dog that is to driven for the food and now loses focus. Hierarchy of reward must be considered here too. The value of the food is something you must consider as the Dog gets a vote. If you believe they must work for their kibble, then what you may find is that if they don't enjoy their kibble, they may not work well or be motivated to work by it. Sequencing feedings after training also comes with the considerations of exertion and not unlike going swimming you should consider waiting for 30 minutes or so before you feed. Duration of sessions should be incremental and successive. Short bursts of training; quality versus quantity is the key.

SECURITY/SAFETY: This boils down to considering environmental barriers to learning. Ensure that you expose dogs to training environments prior to training. Giving them a chance to checkout and become comfortable with the space, items, and people in the space is important. I create a "Zero Day" in training for this. The idea is to allow dogs to get used to the space, participants, and me so that we can see if my hat and body language, or items in the space to be triggers/barriers to learning.

Each of the above are commonly referred to as basic needs.

LOVE AND BELONGING This to me is about rapport and the secondary reinforcers from the handler. Handlers need to understand and appreciate the importance of Rapport building. It's not likership I get it but dogs are social critters, even the Psycho Dutchies and Malinois respond to some type of rapport/connection to their handlers. Secondary reinforcers such as physical verbal praise apply here. Also tying back to Security/Safety dogs have to trust us. They need clear boundaries and expectations. This means that training competence builds confidence. Only way to get this is repetition.

ESTEEM: This one is one that I tie back to the dogs self awareness. As we know, dogs have different and unique personalities. Sure certain breeds can predict some base line characteristics however, anyone who has worked with knows there are outliers and examples that disprove each stereotype. Dogs each learn in different ways too. This comes down to creating training events that deliberately build confidence. Sure it's somewhat anthropomorphic to say dogs have "self respect" but to me this is just about self assuredness and trust that is built through exposure to training and the world at large. Think of it as socialization with the world so that the dog learns that it can handle being.

SELF ACTUALIZATION: This one comes down to what I believe is the goal of what we do, problem solving, operant, thinking dogs. If we have done our job working through all the other levels of the Hierarchy, this is where we want to be. We want to create training that encourages our dogs to learn and work on their own. Our goal is to move out of the way and have a dog that uses it's cognitive abilities to solve training, trial, and operational problems with handlers in a supporting role. Every proceeding level can be viewed as a barrier to this. Looking at our training with the end in mind, and taking successive approximation model steps to get there is important. Our training should start with the end in mind and build positive links in the chain.

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