Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How generalization affects training

Let’s put it this way: Your dog’s inability to generalize prevents him from learning commands completely.
I think we can all relate to this next scenario.
You teach your dog to roll over and you are so proud of him, you just can’t wait to show your friends.
Your friends are visiting one night for dinner, hanging around the kitchen as you keep an eye on the food cooking on the stove top.
Your dog meanders in and you’re excited the instant you see him because you’ve just remembered, he has a new trick to show off.
“This is so cool. I’ve never actually had a dog that could roll over before. I can’t believe he figured it out,” you say to your friends.
Then you look at your dog, treat in hand.
“Roll over,” you say.
The dog is still sitting there, looking up at you. He offers you a paw instead, a trick he’s done a million times.
“No,” you say, and then try it again. “Roll over!”
Out of frustration, he barks and then lays down, his eyes still fixated on the treat.
“I don’t know why he’s doing this,” you say to your friends. “He must’ve rolled over like a million times the other night when we were practicing.”
Your friends are nice and more than that, they really don’t care what silly tricks your dog can do. Some of them don’t even like dogs that much. But even so, you feel a bit humiliated.
Let’s examine this situation a bit. Is the kitchen usually where you do all your training? Probably not. It’s kind of a distracting area of the home for dogs. Maybe the living room is where you do most of your training.
I’d make a solid bet that the dog will perform every trick by the book, perfectly on command, in that living room. I’d also bet that he wouldn’t respond at all in the kitchen, bedroom, basement or yard.
This is all thanks to a dog’s inability to generalize.
It’s not just every thing that’s different to a dog, but every situation is different too. Every environment is different.
So what are you supposed to do? I’ll explore that tomorrow.

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