What is it and Why it MUST BE taken into account for Training Success
How often have you found yourself saying something like “I know my dog understands what ‘sit’ means so why won’t he sit half the time I ask? He must be stubborn or defiant…”.
While it can be very easy to believe that our dogs are being stubborn or defiant, the real reasons are usually far more complex. When we understand those reasons and how to work with them we can improve our communication and our relationships with our dogs.
In this article I will address Generalization and the impact it has on our dogs ability to execute commands, other reasons you should be aware of are covered under the article titled The Earn and Learn Program.
Generalization refers to ones ability to automatically apply knowledge to situations ‘in general’. Both people and dogs can have trouble generalizing. Have you ever been out on the town and run into a person you know very well but found yourself unable to recall their name or how you know them? This is a classical example how people often fail to generalize. We see a person out of the usual context and our minds are unable to connect the dots.
Our dogs’ ability to automatically apply knowledge to situations in general is far more limited than our own. They are contextual learners that rely on body language for most of their communication, and their command of the English language is very limited. We can see how the affects of ‘generalization’ apply in dog training by observing a very simple exercise. During obedience class we begin teaching our dog to Sit while standing directly in front of them; if we then pivot to our dogs left shoulder and say Sit again, our dogs may look at us totally confused or scoot back in front of us, then Sit. Why…because Sit has always meant Sit with my person directly in front of me. Now take your dog to a new location and ask him to Sit, once again you may get a look of total confusion or no look at all. Why…because your dog may be unable to recall what Sit means in this new place.
To teach your dog how to generalize a command work with him in a variety of environments around a variety of distractions starting at low levels and graduating to higher levels. Work with your dog inside your home and yard when there are no distractions, then work in the yard with distractions. Work with your dog while walking in quiet areas then gradually walk and work in busier environments. Follow the 80% rule. If your dog will execute a command 80% of time in one environment you are ready to move to the next level of difficulty. And, use hand signals with your verbal commands. Many studies have shown that dogs respond faster and more reliably to hand signals than verbal commands. Enroll in a Group Obedience class in your area. Group Obedience classes are a great way to teach your dog how to focus on you amidst distractions and you are likely to learn lots of new training tips and tricks from the instructor.
Last but not least – no dog is 100% reliable. If your dog does what you ask 80% of the time give yourself a pat on the back then smooch that pooch. You make an excellent team!