4 User Experience Insights I Learned From Training My Puppy

A few months ago I got the family our first puppy. Her name? “Orchid Jane Isabella the Rut Killer”…or Orchid for short.

Like any new project, I’ve immersed myself in learning how to train her so she can be the best dog she can be. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about our pup, my kids, myself…

…and a lot about how we should treat our users for a great user experience!

1) Positive Reinforcement Gets Better Results
I’ve tried different methods of training including one that’s strictly positive with treats/praise, and one with ‘corrections’, or leash pops, etc. In my experience, while I get pup to do what I want in both cases, I get much better results with positive reinforcement. She seems more eager to please as I guide her to do the right thing and reward her for succeeding. Besides, it seems to me that she becomes much more loyal…because she is choosing to engage with me.

A great user experience does the same. Most times users have choices between our software and a competitors. If users get positive feedback, if they’re guided to success, they become happy, engaged, eager to use the software, and they’ll enjoy the experience much more…and in the end our users will be much more loyal.

2) Take Small Steps And Start With The Basics
I am learning that in order to teach a dog a complex trick, it takes many small steps…and you can’t rush it! For example, my pup can now fetch a toy and if I say “Put Away” she walks to the toy basket and drops it in there. It’s awesome to see. However, that was not something I could teach in one step. She is eager to learn but she needs me to break down a trick into a number of basic steps that she can master…and once she masters each step I can have her perform the whole sequence. Further, if I push her too fast or start with the complex multi-step trick, she would get frustrated, abandon the training session, and just sit in a corner and chew on her bone.

A great user experience is the same: Users need to be shown the basics and feel successful! Once they get a handle of core tasks, they can be guided step-by-step through a more complex task, and eventually do the task on their own. If we don’t provide them with that guidance…and ability to do just the basics first, they’ll get frustrated and abandon our product.

3) Be 100% Consistent
To train a pup, I need to be consistent in reinforcing a behavior. If I’m 100% consistent, she learns the verbal or hand command and is very quick to understand what to do.

A great user experience is the same: If we are 100% consistent in our visual metaphors, navigation path, detailed interaction, our users are quick to understand how to get the most out of our products.

4) It’s All About Trust
It took a while for my pup to trust me. As our training proceeded, she learned I wanted the best for her, that I was here to help her succeed, and yes, that I had treats. It turns out that the more my pup trusts me, the more successful our training will be.

A great user experience is the same: As our users first start out with our product, we need to earn their trust…that we are always accurate, have their best interest in mind, and it doesn’t hurt to have some surprises (some cool capability, automation or innovative and elegant experience). The more our users trust us, the deeper into the product they’ll go and integrate it into their business.


How about you, have you found insight into user experience from dog training or other non-technology sources?

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