The Generalisation Game!

“But he does it at home!" This is a phrase that we hear frequently. Usually as a dog totally ignores a request from his owner. So, why do dogs follow commands at home then turn off as soon as they are elsewhere?

To understand this we have to go inside the dog’s brain. You see, dogs are very literal in how they think. If we only train in one location then the dog associates performing the requested behaviour solely in that specific place. Equally, if we always train wearing the same item, e.g. a treat pouch, then the dog only associates performing the behaviour when we have that treat pouch visible. When we have initially trained something we can't assume that our dog really knows it and will perform it anywhere, any how. Have a try now. Do you think your dog really knows what ‘sit’ means? Turn your back on your dog and ask them to sit. Touch your toes while asking your dog to sit. Jump up and down and try again. Did your dog do it? Are you too out of breath to answer?

The inside secret to ensuring your dog does as she is asked everywhere is called ‘generalisation’. This means training the behaviour in lots of different locations. You will need to go back a few steps when you try somewhere new. For example, if you have trained a thirty second 'stay' at home then you shouldn’t expect your dog to instantly do the same when you are at the park with lots of distractions. Go back to trying a one second 'stay' and build it up again, second by second. Add distractions gradually from a distance. You may want to see if you can progress to a ten second 'stay' while you are twenty feet away from some dogs. If successful, take a step closer to the dogs and see if you can deliver a five second 'stay' and work up to ten again. If you’re not successful then put some more distance between you and the dogs and try again. Remember, every time you add something that makes it more challenging for your dog you will want to ask for less and build up incrementally. Give it a go and tell Mr Bones how you get on.