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  • Deb Bauer

The Power of Social Learning in Dogs

Small white puppy lying down next to large white dog on the same dog bed, facing the same direction.
Delight mirroring Vinny's posture and behavior on the dog bed.

Dogs never cease to amaze me with their intelligence and adaptability. They are masters of observation, constantly learning from their surroundings and the behaviors of their fellow canines. Living with a new puppy has allowed me to witness this incredible phenomenon of social learning in action. I want to share the heartwarming story of how Delight, despite her sensory challenges, is thriving through the power of social learning.

Delight is now an adolescent and is in a phase of intense social learning from the other dogs in our home. She may not have the ability to see or hear, but her other senses are highly attuned. She has a keen awareness of what the other dogs are doing and often mirrors their behaviors and postures. It's been fascinating to observe how she learns from them and adapts to different situations.

Grooming Time: A Teachable Moment:

One day, while brushing Vinny outside, I noticed Delight curiously approaching the grooming session. She wanted to understand why her buddy was standing still and not playing with her. She stood close by and gathered information about what was happening. She smelled and touched the brush with her nose.

At first, she ran off to play and explore, but by her third time checking us out, she decided to stand next to Vinny. I gave her a quick swipe with the brush, and then offered a treat. Delight doesn’t particularly enjoy brushing, so she ate her treat and then bounced away.

But soon she was back, standing next to Vinny again with her nose in the air expectantly waiting. I brushed her again, this time she stayed for several swipes before collecting her treat. Within a short period of time, she was returning after each treat and standing there demanding that I brush her.

Learning Exercise Etiquette:

During my exercise routines, Delight used to be underfoot, eager to be part of the action. However, she recently noticed that my other dogs each find a nearby, but out of the way, place to lie quietly until I’m finished. She has started lying next to them. I know she’s paying attention because she’s facing my direction and her nose is collecting information, but she knows that I’m busy doing something else, and although it intrigues her, she recognizes now from the other dogs what the best behavior is in this scenario.

Waiting for Treats in Line:

During treat time, Delight used to be an excited bundle of energy, flitting around the others and eagerly anticipating her turn. However, she learned from the other dogs to line up near them, waiting her turn with her nose in the air and her tail wagging expectantly. It's a heartwarming sight to see her embracing the concept of waiting patiently for her reward.

The Joy of Observing Her Learning Journey:

As a pet parent, it's been awe inspiring to watch Delight navigate her world through social learning. She may not have the ability to see or hear, but she proves that sensory challenges do not limit her ability to learn and adapt. Her experiences with my other dogs have shaped her behavior and understanding in a variety of situations.

If you'd like to learn more about blind and deaf dogs, join my Facebook group. You can also always reach out to me - I'm always happy to answer questions and to help support you.

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