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Puppy Training Log Week 26: "Generalization"

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Did everyone see last week's training video of Halo? Wasn't she just GORGEOUS? Fluent, happy, willing, accurate. So she's trained, right?

Ha! Wrong! Not yet! There's more!

In the dog training world, there's something called "Generalization." Generalization basically means that, if the dog learns something in one environment, it's not a given that it can repeat it in a different environment. It's otherwise known as the "He only does it in the living room!" syndrome.

Dogs are highly environmental creatures. For dogs who are new to this whole "training" thing, it might take them a long time for them to generalize all their new knowledge to different places and situations.

If you work at an office, whenever there are computer upgrades or other training, they might send you to a computer lab and you would learn all the new programs and how to do them. Then you'd without any thought go back to your own office, turn on your computer, and be able to use what you'd just learned.

Not if you were a dog! If you were a dog, you might perform fluently in the computer lab...and then your own computer and just stare blankly at the screen, with literally no idea what you were supposed to be doing. That's how it'd be if you were a dog.

There's good news and bad news for you and your dog!

Bad news first: Generalization work can be REALLY tedious, and REALLY disheartening. All that hard work and then you go to the park and literally nothing, not even a "sit."

But here's the good news! 1) Dogs CAN learn to generalize, and 2) As they get more mature and savvy, they get better and better at it.

If your dog will only perform in the living room, here's what to do!

First, take your dog just to a different environment in your own house. This could be just a bedroom or the attic or something. Go over and rehearse the veeeery basics, like Sit and Stay and Attention. You might literally have to retrain each behavior. But soon your dog will be working there as well as the living room.

Next, go to your backyard, a porch or a deck. Repeat. The goal is to get the dog to do as well as it did in its original training environment.

Next, go to a low-distraction area. I like parking lots, culdesacs and very low-traffic streets. (Pavement is easier if your dog has a lot of scent distraction issues.) And repeat!

Then, go to maybe a second, though "novel" low-distraction area. Repeat! Are you getting the idea? Tedious much? Ha!

Gradually, you can start moving into more and more distracting environments. Along the way, you should start noticing that it's not taking quite as long for your dog to perform well in the new environments. Instead of taking maybe 5-6 sessions in the new environment, now maybe your dog is only taking 2-3 sessions. Soon it will be able to immediately work well, even in a brand-new place! Progress! Soon your dog will be "generalized," and your dog will work like a pro no matter where it is.

Good luck! Let me know if you get stuck!

And P.S.! This video of Halo was filmed on Thursday morning. We went back to the same park on Friday morning, Saturday morning, and by Sunday morning she was performing quite well! Not as good as in her previous environment, but I bet we'll be there in 1-2 more sessions and then we'll be off for yet another "new" place!


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