February 11, 2014 by Julia West
I’m currently assisting in my club’s Beginner 101 class and, like so many other trainers, I’ve heard that old familiar lament – “S/He does it at home!” It is a common source of frustration in training when you have a dog who has a behavior down pat (or at least at 90%) at home, then you go into a training class and your dog looks like he doesn’t “know” anything.
There is a common belief in training that dogs don’t generalize. This means that “sit” in the living room isn’t the same as “sit” in the yard which isn’t the same as “sit” at class. But I’d modify that to say that dogs don’t generalize well.Think of it like tracing words in a notebook. You choose a page and the more repetitions you make, the darker the words get.
When you go to a new place, you’ve flipped to the next page in your notebook. Your carefully traced words are not there, but if you look closely, you can see the impressions. With a little work, you’ll reveal the outline.
You have to redraw your words to make them bold and consistent again, but you aren’t working free-hand this time. Take the outline you have and rebuild the behavior. The next page will have a deeper impression, then the page after that, and so on until your words bleed through.
Remember, the next time you take your skills on the road – be bold and be consistent. Your dog is taking notes too.