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The Progress Principle

Have you ever heard of the saying, give them an inch and they will take a mile? This saying is extremely true especially when it comes to dogs and it perfectly describes the progress principle.

Dogs are extremely cunning creatures and will take advantage of a situation when they see it available. This is naturally how the human canine bond began as packs of wild wolves learned that they could benefit from the waste that local hunter gatherers would leave behind.

Over the years as dogs became domesticated and were invited into early human civilizations their innate nature to take advantage of situations that benefited them so well in the past was passed down through their genes. Now that same cunning nature is in the various dogs we have today.

The progress principle is used to describe the dog’s innate cunning nature and it also applies to human behavior as well.

“The progress principle is very much like the example of the boulder, when you discover that there is a weakness that can be exploited you will put all your effort into exploiting that weakness because you had success in the beginning.”

Let us suppose you are trying to lift a boulder and you are struggling and straining with your attempts.

On accident you learn that by moving the boulder in a specific way it begins to budge, now that you have discovered that the boulder will budge by moving it in that specific direction you redouble your efforts in order to roll the boulder away.

The progress principle is very much like the example of the boulder, when you discover that there is a weakness that can be exploited you will put all your effort into exploiting that weakness because you had success in the beginning.

Every day our dogs are trying to figure us out as humans and are learning things every second that they are awake.

If you pet your dog every time they give you puppy dog eyes they will exploit this in order to get the attention that they want, likewise if you feed your dog at the dinner table they will exploit that in order to get more food.

Dogs will do what works best for them and they are masters at figuring out what works and what does not work.

This also includes which humans are more likely to follow through with commands and which humans will let the dog get away with certain unwanted behaviors.

The progress principle can be used to the owner’s advantage in order to train the dog and get them to display desirable behaviors. This is done by showing the dog that doing those behaviors will get them what they want. Owners can achieve this by using operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

Once a dog learns that it will get rewarded for being engaged with an owner and displaying desirable behaviors then the dog will be more likely to attempt those behaviors in the future.

The dog sees this as something that will benefit it. As progress is made in training and the dog begins to learn new skills it becomes easier and easier for the dog to learn new commands.

If a dog is allowed to make progress in one area then intermittent reinforcement will take place and the dog will continue to display that behavior.

This is due to the dog figuring out what they have learned in the past and then generalizing that behavior to similar behaviors.

There are times were a dog will display undesirable behaviors, typically these behaviors are internally reinforced; that is the dog will continue to display those behaviors unless they are prevented from happening.

Owners can prevent these behaviors from happening in the form of appropriate timed corrections when a dog is displaying loading behavior.

By being consistent with this it prevents any progress from being made and thus stops the progress principle from taking effect.

If a dog is permitted to make progress in one area then intermittent reinforcement will take place and the dog will continue to display that behavior.

Dogs are extremely intelligent animals, and they will jump at any opportunity that gets them what they are after.

By using the progress principle to your advantage you can shape the dog’s behavior so that they align to your own desires, if you fail to do so then the dog will naturally find behaviors that will benefit it, typically these behaviors are either annoying or extremely undesirable.

Knowing how to use your dog’s clever nature in order to guide your dog into making the right decisions and to prevent them from making poor decisions is the essence of being a good leader for your dog.

The progress principle is something that can be used in dog training to help your dog, however there is another area in dog training that the progress principle can be applied.

Many dog owners struggle with their dog’s bad behaviors and have bad days with their dogs, these owners can utilize the progress principle with your own dog training journey.

Take one day at a time and let the small victories in that day motivate you and your dog to continue pushing forward towards a brighter future for the both of you.

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