“My dog does it perfectly at home.”

“My dog does it perfectly at home.”

Training at the dog park is great for the dog to learn to generalise

A remark many owners pass at the club when their dogs refuse to retrieve, come when called or break a stay.

Most dogs can tell the difference between the ringing of a doorbell on television and the one at home. When a dog barks on TV he ignores it, but when one barks down the road he charges to the gate and starts barking. This tells us that the dog is able to discriminate between the different barking dogs.

That same dog may sit or go down perfectly at home, but at the club or at a different location fails to obey the same commands equally well, because he has not yet been able to generalise the commands and movements he obeyed so well at home. He does not see the commands at different places meaning exactly the same thing. This becomes worse with distractions when he can act real silly. The dog does not seethat the training at the club is the same as that done at home.

When visitors come to you by car and drive up the driveway you will find the dog eager to welcome them. If the same visitors parked outside the property and walked to your gate, the dog will bark at them. He has learnt to dislike the postman and fails to discriminate between him and a visitor to your home. He will then generalise and bark at anyone at the gate.

This also applies to uniforms and race. My dog stops the gardener at the gate and will allow him in only when I have given the OK. Upon my return later I find the gardener outside the gate because while I was away he goofed off somewhere and when he returned was not allowed in by the dog.

It can be difficult for a dog to learn that there are times when he must be able to discriminate and not to generalise.

We have all been to visit someone who insisted on showing us how clever their new puppy is and what he can do, only to find the doggy not performing to the commands. The owner then claims, “He knows it but is just stubborn.” This is not true. On its own the pup will be able to do it but when you add people, dogs or grass the pup needs time to assimilate each change or different context. If he was taught to “sit” in the kitchen with no one around, that does not mean he will “sit” on the grass in the garden. He is not defiant or spiteful, it is just that he does not know it in that new context.

By re-training him from the beginning on grass or with a visitor present he soon will be able to generalise and understand that “sit” means “sit” in any place or situation.

While the dog may be clever enough to learn through experience and what it has been taught, it also needs to know where, when and how to use the knowledge it has acquired. 

What can be done?

Spend time Shaping behaviour when changing to a new context.

Shaping a behaviour means rewarding the dog in tiny, successive steps until the behaviour you want is reached. If you want to teach your dog to “Wave Goodbye” take a treat in your hand and wave it near a paw until he moves it. Immediately reward with the treat. Repeat until he scrapes at your hand with that paw. Reward and praise and continue a bit longer each time and gradually get him to lift the paw higher into a wave.

Train in several places a few times a day. Start in the garden, then the driveway and    then out in the street or safe area. Repeat the same exercise in each area. Keep it short.

If the dog’s concentration weakens away from home, lower your standards. If you did not use food or a prey item in the garden, then use food etc. away from home.

Apply the 80% rule. If you are sure that the dog will get it right 8 out of 10 times, move on to the next level.

Train atdifferent times of the day. (Train mornings and/or evenings and at different times over weekends.)

If the dog has difficulty concentrating away from home, repeat “attention getting” exercises by getting the dog to react to its name. Once he reacts to his name, start the exercise again but now wait for him to react. Do not repeat the word. The dog will lie down ….most of them will. When he does, jackpot him, with all the treats in your hand. 

If he refuses to “Down-stay” at a different location then the exercise should be re-taught. (See notes on “Down-stay”) Down the dog and remain standing next to him, as prescribed in the exercises, before any attempt is made to leave the dog.

Apply the 3Ds – Adding Duration, Distance, and Distractions.

Duration comes first by making the dog to sit or down for longer periods of time.

Distance requires the dog to sit or go down from a greater distance.

Distractions imply training outdoors with people, dogs, smells etc.around.

Gradually increase the distractions and the length of the practice sessions.

Repeat, repeat, repeat enough times until the dog is able to generalise to your satisfaction.

Always end exercises on a positive, happy note and remember to keep it short.