How many of you can get your dog to sit perfectly in your living room, but when you go to your vet your dog suddenly acts deaf? In the video below you can see an example of two really important training principles that help to fix issues like this. The first is something we call generalizing. This is when you take something that a dog is familiar with doing, but you do it in a new environment or with new distractions. In this scenario I’m working with Cooper on his “auto-sit” meaning that every time I stop, he sits automatically without being told. He’s done this with me at the training facility, around parking lots, etc. and now he’s doing it while walking beside a toddler eating a granola bar in a wheelchair! What we’re trying to do is teach him to generalize the training so that he doesn’t just think that these things he learned only apply when he is at the training facility. This goes back to the example of your dog being able to sit perfectly in the living room, but not at the vets office.
Using Variable Rewards
The second principle of training being used here is something we call variable rewarding. Notice that when I’m walking with Cooper in this video he sits five times, but he only gets a treat twice. That’s because we are working on phasing out the treats. In another week or so he won’t even need any treats at all for this exercise (except on the rare occasion). Often times I see folks use treats to teach their dog something, and they just try to quit cold turkey, and the dog quickly learns that there’s no longer any benefit to listening. If you want your dog to be reliable you slowly fade out the treats, and always keep the dog guessing whether or not they might receive a tasty morsel the next time they listen. They will continue to perform the desired behavior because they never know when that treat might show back up. It’s kind of the same reason people keep playing the lottery! You can and should apply these principles to every command that you train your dog to do.