Evidence of learning

by | Oct 23, 2021

This is an extract from Build the Learning Course

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What the dog, child or person learns is controlled by the other party. But as you know what your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

When I studied education, part of the program expected participation in the inspection system that ensures quality in teaching. We would examine the lesson plans, curriculum, classrooms, resources and observe the teaching process. We also invested a good amount of time interviewing the students.

One occasion I noticed that the majority of the class made an error in preparing some equipment for use in an experiment. When questioning the teacher he was adamant that he had told the students very clearly what they were supposed to do, and that getting it wrong was their fault. We can only assess teaching by evidence of what the students’ learned. This class were clearly confused as evident in the error. It is the teacher’s responsibility to be assessing the learning through various techniques.

The arrogance that assumes a learner is at fault for mistakes is prevalent in the dog field. Dogs are attribute characteristics such as stubborn, stupid, loopy, or impossible to train.

It becomes the responsibility of the trainer, or engineer, to design the learning so that ALL dogs can achieve the same success. Recipes for specific behaviours are infinite and there is an unspoken implication that any lack of success for getting a dog to sit is the fault of the learner.

A learner is built by a combination of their inherited traits and abilities, learning experience and skills that they have the opportunity to learn and practice.

For every learning situation it is our task to identify what learning has happened. Any gaps in that learning will become evident when assessed and the gaps will be closed by practising the appropriate activities.

This is an example of the process:


I use the activity of stepping on a brick for young pups to develop specific proprioception skills. They will observe their environment, measure perceptive distances, become aware of quite accurate front feet placement, adopt stillness and balance.

The activity itself has no particular application except to develop these skills.

Todd began learning this at 10 weeks old in this first video:

In the second video he is 20 weeks old and this is his seventh session. The stepping on the brick activity will be changing as he physically grows and begins to apply other experience and it is a weekly activity.

I would like you to watch this and identify what he has learned and what is the learning gap. You will see that he makes mistakes and struggles to be successful.

There is no sound in this video and you will be able to play at a slower speed to watch for the critical points.

There are two skills that need development and practice. Scroll further down the page ….



1. Choosing the relevant navigation points

In his earlier sessions I am at a consistent location relative to the brick. This negates the need to purposefully look at the location of the brick as he can guess where it is whilst looking at me and maintaining a focus on the food.

Once I remove the food he still uses me as a navigating point. Why not? He does not know the future of this activity and success pays off.

Watch the video again and note the absence of looking at the brick before he steps on it, relevant to the success of the movement.


To close this gap I can remove myself from the consistent position and see if he works it out. This would only be a last resort as the burden of learning is loaded on his very young and inexperienced  shoulders. Some dogs will fold under this burden.

The responsibility for closing the gap is mine, not his.

2. Experience of reward situation

From the dog’s view point the brick is really not that relevant. What is important is the food, the regular supply and where it is coming from. He will be aware that he does “something” that gets the food. We can see him repeat the stepping actions and missing the brick.

I begin my changes to my position at the reward process. Whilst he stands on the brick I reward repetitively in different positions.

This is the process and then the next session with a white tape around the brick:

Did learning happen?

Yes, very quickly he adapted the approach pattern to seeking the location of the brick every time.

This was successful. The quantity of rewards delivered in the outcome behaviour was not as important as the novel way I was standing when rewards occurred.

These novel ways of standing were introduced in the reward, NOT as antecedents hoping he would find his way to the reward.

Note that if you make changes there should be evidence of learning within 2 repetitions. We should not be repeating a change without evidence of the dog adapting successfully.

Smart cookie huh?

Learning is about making changes.

Learning cannot happen unless we make a change

What did I learn? 

Although it seems helpful to offer consistent conditions as the pup is learning, I inadvertently stopped him from learning the key skills of looking at the brick before judging the perceptive distance. 

By just changing my position very slightly each time, he may have learned sooner to seek the location of the brick. 

Learning is focussed on what is of benefit to the learner. In the future if the dog needs to be able to judge perceptive distance: for jumping, retrieve, sheep, this skill is essential. 

Standing on a brick is not. 


What did you learn from this process? 


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