Generalising Behaviours in New Environments

The importance of teaching behaviour to our dogs and teaching it with a purpose and generalising it in many environments.

Our dogs don`t generalise behaviours the way we humans do. If you can make a pancake, you can make it in your kitchen or your friend`s kitchen. Although my skills decrease with the number of people watching, and the skill evaporates in my Mum`s kitchen.

Dogs learn differently. Their observational skills are a lot more defined than ours, and they make up the whole picture.

When we teach them a cue like a “sit”, it only means putting your butt on the floor and looking at me if you are standing in front of me, we are in the living room, and the tv is not on, and no one is there.

So, when you first want to show off with your gorgeous little fluffball`s newly learnt skill – and guess what, your pup is looking around puzzled as if they heard this word for the first time in their life. What an embarrassing moment or just something you can laugh off.

It happened to me as well and most of us, I think.

And you know what?

In your pup`s mind, it is the first time he heard this word. He doesn’t know that “sit” means the same if you are sitting or standing up, in the kitchen, in the living room or outside, somebody around or not, you are a bit further away, or your back is turned to your pup.

So that`s why it is crucial to GENERALISE the behaviours in several environments.

But how do we do that?

Well, it takes a lot of practice and patience on our part.

I`d like to introduce you to the concept of 3D`s

  • Distance
  • Duration
  • Distraction

I like to start introducing distractions early. If they understand the distraction element, then I will get the duration. If they are struggling with the behaviour itself, then I made it too difficult too soon. I need to take a step back and go back where they were still successful.

So, for example, when I was teaching my dog indicating on a coin in scent work and started introducing distraction, I took the exercise very early on to different environments. We practised both indoors and outdoors, where she was exposed to various surfaces, noises, movements, people, animals, scents etc.

When I added movement, I started it back at home, where she felt comfortable. With the movement, I could add distance but didn`t expect her to hold her stance for a longer time as well. So we only changed the picture slightly, and when it becomes more difficult in one way, then making it easy in another way.

Then I added touch, lowered the criteria and started at home in the kitchen. That wasn`t challenging, so I have added only one new thing to the whole picture.

Then we took the touch outside and, with all the other distractions and noises, could add the touch and the distance but wasn`t bothered about duration.

What I am working on now is only duration, but that is only sexy to see and not really a requirement as long as I can read my dog`s body language and she can focus on the task.

If your dog struggles to keep focus in different environments and you need more help, please reach out and look at our courses.

I am always happy to help as well in our very supportive Facebook group “Tricks & Tips”

Happy training!