So why is it that dogs tend to be really good at home but not in other locations? The answer is generalization. Dogs are very context specific, so they tie in everything that was happening during training when the behavior was learned. Where they were during the training, what you were you doing — standing, sitting, wearing a hat, etc. Unless you generalize training to other situations and contexts pups will often be slow to respond and confused or unclear about what you want from them.
If you teach your pup to sit while you are in your living room, then s/he will sit really well .. . in your living room. Reward with a cookie while s/he is sitting in front of you, facing you, then that's where s/he thinks s/he should sit, not next to you. Dogs will be best behaved where you have trained the most, and typically this is inside your home.
So how do you get your dog to be really good at home, and really good out in the real world? The answer is generalization. This means changing the location and context you train in slightly and with gradually increasing difficulty. For example, if your dog is really good responding to a sit inside the house, change the context slightly and make it more challenging. Train in another room of the house, open the front door and practice inside the house. It will be slightly more difficult, but still easy enough that your dog will succeed!
Step 1 Pick a behavior that is important to you and spend 5 minutes a day working on it.
Step 2 Gradually change the context. Think about all of the situations in which you might need your dog to be able to offer a behavior, write it down if it is helpful, and then rank them from easiest to hardest.
- Can your dog do the behavior on leash or off leash?
- Can your dog offer the behavior at your front door? With the door closed? Open? With people standing on the other side of the door?
- Change the location. Train in your kitchen, living room, bedroom, back yard, front yard, friend’s house, local park. Start in the easiest location and build to the hardest. Take a step back to an easier location if you find a certain place too hard.
- Change the context. Can your dog do the behavior if you are sitting, standing, lying on the floor, wearing sunglasses, a hat, talking on your phone, etc?
Jennifer Biglan, owner of Training Spot in Eugene, OR, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in Eugene, OR. She knew she wanted to work with animals at a young age. After graduating from the U of O and volunteering at a dog shelter, she found her calling. Jennifer is well known through the community, and by many area veterinarians for her work in solving behavior problems, and she has extensive knowledge and background training dogs. Learn more about Training Spot at trainingspot.us or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.