Generalization, Distractions and the Dream of the Everywhere Dog…
Tonight at class, one of my students gave me inspiration for this article with one simple question. Why is it that my dog does all the exercises and behaves so well at home, yet completely falls apart when we try the same stuff on his walk? Simple I said, “You have a Living Room Dog!”
Okay, let me try to make sense out this last statement.
Let’s start with the fact that there are 3 D’s in dog training; Duration, Distance and Distraction and the realization that you have to do them in that order for success. For example, I must first teach Fido a solid 30 second duration stay and only then do I add, let’s say, 6 feet of distance. Only when I have both duration and distance under my belt and working well will I dream of adding the last and toughest “D”, DISTRACTION.
Now, how and why we use and adapt the 3 D’s in training could be its own separate article; but suffice it to say that Distractions are the hardest thing any person will ever have to deal with when training their dog…not to mention the it is the starting point in creating a “Living Room” Dog…
The next thing you need to understand about the “LIVING ROOM” Dog is the fact that dogs do not, cannot and will not generalize training the way we humans understand the concept of generalization. If I I teach my son to hit a baseball in a batting cage, chances are he will be able to take that skill to a new environment, let’s say a baseball diamond.
Unfortunately, dogs often times do not have this ability. Teaching a dog a skill in one environment and expecting it to translate into a different situation or place is just not going to happen in most instances. A good example is that crazy dog that can fetch and retrieve toys inside the house perfectly, but could care less about the game in the backyard. Why is that, do you suppose? Maybe it’s not the fact he/she could care less and it’s more the fact they have not learned the game in that particular situation or environment.
Each week you go to class then you go home with your head full of great ideas. You practice every morning before work; you come home and practice every night and everything seems to be going great. That is, until that one night you decide to take Fido for a walk (instead of practicing in the Living Room) and all hell breaks loose! Fido doesn’t listen, won’t sit, barks at everything and generally acts like the goon you had before you started classes. You are embarrassed, not to mention frustrated and probably a little P.O.’d.
This brings us (full circle) to you or my student standing in front of me or any other trainer and pleading to know why your dog falls apart outside the house. Like or not, you just met the “LIVING ROOM” Dog!
The problem was not your dog or you. It was the fact that you forgot, or were not taught, about the two critical aspects of training discussed earlier…Distractions and Generalizations. You mistakenly thought your dog would take the things learned in the living room and translate them to the world outside their living room! As you are now beginning to realize (or maybe remember), the outside world is very distracting. The only way to make a dog reliable in all situations…is to practice in all situations.
So I hope you take heed to these ideas and are ready to go after training in a slightly different way. If not, it is likely that you too will complain about having a “LIVING ROOM” Dog and be one of the many people who only experience the well-behaved and smart dog in your own living room. Personally, I would prefer to experience life with an “EVERYWHERE” Dog!
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