ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Role of Muscle Memory in Dog Training

Updated on August 26, 2020
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

Spinning in circles and many other tricks and commands are the fruit of muscle memory.
Spinning in circles and many other tricks and commands are the fruit of muscle memory. | Source

What Exactly is Muscle Memory?

Also known as motor learning, muscle memory takes place when, through repetition, a specific motor skill becomes consolidated into memory. After several repetitions, the motor task is performed without conscious effort, therefore, requiring less and less concentration and attention.

In humans, examples of muscle memory involve tasks like riding a bicycle, playing a musical instrument, typing on a keyboard or playing a video game. When it comes to these skills, the saying "practice makes perfect" is the most suitable.

Edward Thorndike was a leading pioneer when it came to the study of motor memory and he acknowledged how it takes place without conscious awareness. He, along with Hill and Rejall, discovered how the memory retained typing skills even after a 25 year period with no practice.

When a motor skill is initially learned, movement is slow, stiff and lacks fluency. The mental state is attentive, and concentrated. With practice, the motor skill becomes refined, becoming more and more smooth and fluid and can be performed easily performed without conscious effort.

In dog training, the same process takes place, the dog initially is slow in learning, does't know exactly what he's being asked for and doesn't know exactly what he's doing. Repetition after repetition, he develops muscle memory, he learns new motor skills such as how to lower his rump in a sit or how to lower his elbows until they touch the floor in a down.

Muscle memory is what helps makes these responses more and more fluent with the dog responding automatically with little conscious effort. Veterinarian M. Christine Zink in the book "Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation explains that muscle memory is basically the establishment of new connections between neurons which causes movement to become habitual.

However, when training any new type of movement, good precision is needed; otherwise muscle memory can work against you, bringing along habits that may be difficult to remove.

Making the Best out of Muscle Memory

In the initial stages of training, dogs are often lured into specific positions. A food lure is like a magnet that draws the dog's nose while his body follows the movement. For instance, when training a sit, the food lure is lifted from the dog's nose towards his head and as the dog's nose follows the treat, the dog will face upwards which causes his rump to lower to the ground. When training the down command, the food lure is moved as if drawing a letter "L" allowing the dog to follow it until his elbows touch the floor and his rump lowers to the ground.

While the dog normally sits and lies down during the day, he does so when he is tired of staying on all four legs, but he doesn't know how to do it cognitively on command. Same with rolling over. Dogs naturally roll over on their own, nobody taught them how to do that. We humans have brought the sit, lie down, roll over commands to a totally different level than what nature intended. We have basically taught dogs to sit, lie down and roll over on command and more frequently, but no longer for relief of tiredness, or in the case of rolling over, to get a nice backscratch or to absorb scent from a dead animal, but mainly for our delight and for rewards.

Interestingly, Steven Lindsay in his Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior explains how it's very difficult to train a dog to lift his leg on command; yet this is a completely natural behavior in dogs who urine mark. He therefore explains that leg lifting is an instinctive response quite resistant to voluntary control and controlled at a primitive level of neural organization.

As the dog is trained, he becomes more aware of what it takes to sit and lie down. When the treat is guiding him, from the dog's perspective he's just trying to get the treat, and the position change into a sit or lie down is just the way to achieve it. He may be slow, sloppy and make mistakes. As the exercise is repeated, the dog develops muscle memory, the movements get more fluid and the dog no longer needs the lure, because he does it more automatically and other aids can also be removed such as body cues. When muscle memory has started to establish, this is a good time to introduce the command, by presenting it prior to the hand movement.

What you reward is what you get in the world of training animals. This means that if you repeatedly reward your dog for sitting crooked --what is known as a sloppy sit, muscle memory will build on that, and you'll find this habit to sit sloppy hard to get rid of. It's not the dog's fault, he was ultimately just rewarded for that, and rep after rep, sitting that way has become ingrained in his memory and part of his neural organization. A good way to remedy this in the case it has been established for some time is to give the command a new name. Generally, the more muscle memory you build the better, something golfing pros know well as they invest tremendous amounts of time in perfecting their swings.

Spinning in circles requires muscle memory

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)