Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dogs don’t generalize

Does Fido sleep all day in the recliner but wouldn’t dare climb on to the couch?
Maybe Lassie won’t go near the stairs at the back of the house, but doesn’t think twice about tackling any other staircase?
It can be really hard for humans to wrap their heads around this, but dogs don’t generalize.
People do.
Let me explain the difference.
Humans organize things into categories. A fork is anything shaped like a fork, no matter it’s design or what it’s made of. Put it together with spoons and knives and you’ve got yourself a set of silverware.
A dog would never understand this.
The plastic fork would be different than the metal fork, and even forks of the same material would be differentiated by how they’re scratched or how they smell.
Nothing is the same to a dog.
He might have two identical tennis balls for toys, but they’re different to him.
This also makes the recliner vastly different from the couch. The dog doesn’t think, “It’s all furniture.”
You know he doesn’t use the stairs at the back of the house because he tumbled down them when he was a puppy. When it happened, you remembered worrying that he would have a problem with all staircases. You were surprised when that wasn’t the case. And now, you understand that it comes down to generalization.
The staircase in the back of the house is its own individual thing to the dog, completely unrelated to all the other staircases in the world that, in a human’s eyes, are practically identical.
Understanding that dogs don’t generalize is pivotal in training a dog.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain why that is.

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