Thursday, April 2, 2009

Overcoming generalization

Training a dog in a variety of environments is important.
It helps the dog overcome his tendency to generalize, strengthening his understanding that the command you’re teaching applies whether he’s inside, outside, around other animals, etc.
I usually train Sensi in my living room. The most recent command we worked on was, “Head down.”
In this exercise, Sensi must not only lay down, but he must also rest his head on the floor.
Once I got him doing this in living room, I moved to the kitchen. Then the foyer. Then the hallway. Then the bedroom. Then in his bed in the bedroom. Then on our bed. Then on the deck. And then we went outside.
It took probably about a half hour to practice in all these places.
The key is, I started in the usual spot. Once he got the hang of it, I kept the momentum going but moved around.
He realized, in the living room, that this game was all about putting his head down. Rather than stopping and letting him forget about the game, I just moved the game around.
Sensi dutifully followed, ready to put his head down in exchange for a treat no matter where he was.
I take all opportunities to practice his commands when elements of the environment change.
When friends come over — especially his doggie friends — I make him run through the commands. When we bring him to a friend’s house, we do the same.
By having already exposed him to completing the command in a variety of environments, it makes distractions like new places or having other dogs around easier to overcome.
The rule of thumb here is, if you taught your dog to do something only in your living room, don’t expect him to do it anywhere else. You have to work with him in each environment.

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