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Can Puppies “Think Cognitively” — Upward Dogology



Puppies (under six months of age) possess cognitive elements or abilities. They have, for example, emotions, memory and the ability to recognize objects, which allows conventional methods, such as positive reinforcement training and balanced training to be effective in teaching expected behaviors and discouraging unwanted behaviors. These skills allow us to house train, encourage “sitting” while discouraging “jumping” to get patted, teach which objects are “good vs bad” (toys vs socks), crate-train (they remember it is a good place and that we return), and show dogs that people, dogs, and new places are fun and nice (socialization).

For the majority of puppies, we harness their cognitive abilities and this leads to positive behaviors, as well as preventing, or decreasing, behavioral issues, such as anxiety or aggression. In a small percentage of puppies, their cognitive skills can lead to behaviors associated aggression or anxiety, of which counter conditioning, classical conditioning, and cognitive behavioral therapy are all effective.

As they mature into dogs, these cognitive skills increase (the percentage of cognitive elements in their brain increases). They harness these skills on their own. This ability can lead to behaviors often perceived as unwanted behavior, when in fact, they are maturing the same way in which a three year old would as he or she turns four years old. They begin to question “why should I?” and “what’s in it for me?”. Preconceived thought patterns determine behaviors, which we may not approve of, but their experiences have proven these behaviors work in their favor and see no reason to change the behavior.

At this point, we can no longer rely on methods which are designed to teach right vs wrong and establish thought patterns. We cannot always simply change their behaviors through reinforcements. We need to harness their cognitive skills to change perception to change behavior. For more information on why reactive techniques can fall short, see my article, My Dog Thinks Her Name is “NO!”: Better Advice from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Pet Behavior, Health, and Nutrition Resources –

 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed to harness cognitive abilities, making it particularly effective with dogs over the age of six months. By harnessing these skills, we show dogs we understand their thought patterns and respect their emotions. Once we change their perception of us, it is common for many unwanted behaviors, such as stealing objects, jumping, and barking, to dissipate.  We can then use these same skills to change their perception of their need to feel fear or express behaviors associated with aggression. 


We are the experts in Canine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Learn more on our website, podcast and stay tuned for the release of the second edition of my book.




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