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What is Social Cognitive Learning?

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Dogs are struggling to adjust to a modern lifestyle

Now, more than ever before it is essential that we, as pet parents, handlers, and trainers, understand what is going on in our dogs’ heads. Anxiety disorders, destructive behavior, and obsessions too often develop in intelligent, active dogs that are not given outlets, or in sensitive dogs treated with punitive or dominant training styles.

While dog trainers, walkers, and daycares claim to satisfy dogs’ needs, too often these needs are left unmet.

Trainers can be great at modifying problem behaviors, but dogs have a difficult time transferring new behaviors out of the training session. Dog walkers often have little experience with dogs or knowledge of dog behavior. They are likely to walk more than one dog at a time and frequently spend the walk distracted. Dog daycares are likely to perpetuate or instigate problem behaviors since dogs are left to interact with minimal supervision or interaction from human handlers.

If we hope to meet our dogs’ psychological, physical, and social needs and develop positive and lasting relationships in a time when dogs have lost the jobs they were bred for, we need to come up with appropriate and innovative ways to help them find fulfillment as happy family companions.

Social Cognitive Learning: A Better Solution

Social cognitive learning is an extension of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory developed in the 1960s. It states that reciprocal determinism based on social influences developed during attachment. The social bond directly influences imitation. In the SCT the attachment style is the most important aspect of learning.

Social Cognitive Learning Theory helps us redefine our relationship with our dogs and reframe their lifestyles. With Social Cognitive Training, or SCT, your dog’s mindset and emotional state, not just behavior, are important. Dogs can learn productive and positive behavior more easily and remember what they learned when they are in positive psychological and environmental conditions, and when they have the opportunity to observe trusted models demonstrating behaviors. This means that a dog trained with SCT is never hurt or scared into behaving. Rather, dogs actively participate in a learning program that they find enjoyable and engaging.

SCT builds resilience and confidence, which is essential because it allows a dog to recover quickly from difficult, new, or uncomfortable situations. That means that your family dog will be more likely to bounce back quickly from normal challenges in everyday, modern life.

SCT offers a solution for the modern dog that is three (3) times more effective than popular positive reinforcement techniques like clicker training.

Dogs remember the connection between verbal cue and action more easily after training and are more likely to remember it in different situations and environments as well.

Appropriate Dog Greeting Behavior

LECA Enrichment Program

The LECA Enrichment Program is designed on the principles of Social Cognitive Learning. The curriculum is designed to develop confidence and resilience in family dogs and build strong social bonds with people, other dogs, and the community. Dogs in our program are engaged by certified trainers in small groups and learn through observation and collaboration to achieve trials and solve puzzles. The curriculum integrates structured play, exercise, and socialization.

Dogs that participate in our program adopt an interactive communication style and seek out cues frequently. This is a fundamental SCT behavior as dogs learn to look to trusted humans and dogs to get to their objective, whether it’s a game of fetch or an extra treat.

The first thing that any family will notice, however, is that spending even a short time in our active and fully engaged program will exhaust your best friend’s mental and physical energy. You will find that your dog is more relaxed overall, spending more time hanging out in their bed or on your lap.

Learn more about LECA at



Fugazza, C. and Miklosi, A. (2015, October). Social learning in dog training: The effectiveness of the Do as I do method compared to shaping/clicker training. Retrieved from

Dufresne-Cyr, G. (2014, October 23). Reinforce Resilience. Retrieved from

Case, L P. (2016, February 17). Doggie See, Doggie Do?. Retrieved from

Pongracz, P., Miklosi, A., Kubinyi, E., Gurobi, K., Topalt, J., Csanyi, V. (2001, August 25). Social learning in dogs: the effect of a human demonstrator on the performance of dogs in a detour task. Retrieved from


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