Generalizing Behaviors

Generalizing Behaviors

Dog training not only involves teaching skills (like come, sit and down) but having your dog generalize those skills so they can be used on a functioning level.  Here is what I mean – if you only teach a skill in a certain physical location with a certain body gesture and in a certain order, many dogs will only perform that skill in one location where the handler has to do a specific body cue and can only be done in that certain order.

In order to improve our training and our communication skills, we want to start moving away from this “parlor trick” style of training and more toward having our dogs generalize behaviors.  Generalizing behaviors means that your dog can execute commands in new locations, in different orders, on different surfaces, with/without body cues, and in distraction.

Some dogs can automatically generalize quickly while some require more help.  I specifically remember one dog that we worked with last year, everything had to be broken down into small pieces and almost re-taught if even one part of the equation was changed.  Here is an example – On the first day of this dog’s in-home board and train, we were outside in the yard with the dog on leash.  It was time to come inside so we walked the dog on the left side of the patio furniture and escorted the dog inside the home.  From that moment on, the dog walked to the left of the patio furniture every single time he came into the home – even if he was 12 inches away from the door already, he would walk away from the door and around the furniture to come in on the left side – every single time.

This may be an extreme example of the lack of generalization, but here are some ways to help your dog generalize behaviors:

  • Incorporate various locations into your training.  Different parks, your front yard, inside your home, your back yard, the vet’s office, etc should all be locations where you train your dog.
  • Train on all surfaces.  Your dog needs to be able to function on grass, carpet, shiny floors, gravel, pavement, and concrete.
  • Be aware of your body.  Hand signals are helpful in teaching but make sure your dog can still execute without them.  Also be sure to practice sits and downs in multiple angels in relation to you, not just in front.
  • Mix up your routine.  Dogs are very easily patterned, make sure you are keeping your training sessions full of new combinations.  Example – not always sitting your dog first before going into a down.

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