Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Locations

L is for LOCATIONS. A big part of proofing our dog's behaviors is taking them on the road :). You need to practice everywhere with everyone! Seriously, if you want your dog to respond to cues no matter where you are, you have to practice in all those different locations. Dogs learn new behaviors quickly, but they are lousy generalizers. They tend to revert back to old, ingrained behaviors in new environments with new stimuli.

Taking it on the road

Once your dog is proficient in the desired behavior you are working on in a lower distraction setting (in your house or in class), you are ready to take your training on the road. You want to make sure to take small steps in this as well - start with practicing in your yard or in your driveway. Then move to short walks around the block. Then try an outing to a park. And so forth.

Monday practicing a sit-stay
on a bench at a local park.
Its important to proof your dog's skills everywhere, which also exposes them to learning with new and different distractions each time. By increase the stimuli in your dog's learning environment and remaining consistent, your dog will continue to adapt his learning and think 'Hey, those rules apply everywhere!' :)

Here is a list of some of our favorite places to practice:

*All rooms of the house (including the bathroom!)
*The backyard
*My neighborhood block (my neighbors enjoy the show!)
*The local parks
*The local pet stores and other stores that allow dogs
*The Farmer's markets
*Friends and relatives' houses
*Group classes

If it all falls apart

If your dog's behavior falls apart in a new environment - go back to basics. Help your dog perform the behavior you are cueing with a treat or toy as a lure. You may even need to back up from whatever is distracting them to get more focus on you. Try to get five to 10 successful repetitions while gradually weaning them off the extra help. Standing there and repeating the cue when your dog is too distracted to hear what you are saying is not teaching the dog anything but how to ignore you.

Increasing your rate of reinforcement to keep them attentive and working is also a good idea when you start out at a new place. As they become more consistent, you can lower your reward rate and rely more on secondary reinforcers or verbal encouragement. With a little patience and practice, it won't be long before your dog realizes that their training working everywhere, regardless of the distraction.

Bring on the public

Overall, learning this way is more like real life for the dog, and the learning tends to become more permanent because the dog begins to realize that the cues work everywhere. The more distractions you practice around, the quicker your dog will learn to generalize their response to your cues :). So be creative and get out there!!

Where are your favorite places to visit? Have you practiced your dog's behaviors there?


  1. I use to show horse and it was important part of there life is to socialize around.

    Thanks for stop in.

    Coffee is on

  2. This is great! I wish people would recognize how important teaching in many environments is. I routinely ask people to bring their dog into the vet clinic to get a treat and practice relaxation and general behaviors so that it isn't a big deal when the come into the clinic. Keep up the good work!

    1. We take advantage of our local clinic a lot for drive-by cookies :). That way at least my dog doesn't think that every time they go there they are getting poked and prodded!