“He does great in here but as soon as we step outside he’s a raging lunatic on the leash! I just don’t understand!”
The trainer answer is that dogs do not generalize well. Basically this means that dogs do not automatically understand that the rules in one place (say the training facility) also apply in other places (like the home, the park, or the pet store). What this means is that if you want your dog to respond in a variety of environments, you have to train in a variety of environments. Now this doesn’t mean you have to train at every single possible place you will ever want your dog to respond but the more places you train the better your dog will generalize. If you do some training with “sit” at your training class, at your home, at the park, at the pet store, during a walk, and at a friend’s home chances are your dog will then “sit” at the elementary school, at a new walking trail, at the hardware store, and at your mother’s house. If, however, your dog has only been taught to sit at your home and at the training center, there is a good chance he/she won’t respond to sit in a variety of places.
Knowing that it’s important to train in a variety of places, I really make an effort to take my dogs to different pet stores, dog friendly stores, new walking places, new outdoor parks, etc just to do training work.
It’s been really rainy and icky weather so I haven’t been able to work the dogs outside at all in a few days and it’s suppose to rain for the next 4 days and I was very close to losing my sanity, so I took the dogs to the pet store today to do some work. I wanted to practice some Rally-O behaviors in a really distracting environment and it’s hard to get more distracting than a pet store after 4pm the week before Christmas. We saw about 8 dogs, 15-20 people, 6 kids, a few cats in carriers screaming, and kids pushing carts around like maniacs.
My work with the dogs starts before even entering the store–it starts with them not leaving the car until told it’s okay. Once out of the car, I don’t go anywhere until I have their attention and they are walking nicely. Typically this isn’t a problem, but it’s been quite a long time since we worked at the store and it took me about 5 minutes to get Shayne into the store. It was a trial of patience in the parking lot! She’d give me a second of eye contact, I’d click treat and she’d go right back to scanning the environment for 20 seconds. Then she’d flash eye contact and I’d C/T and she’d go back to scanning. It took probably a minute and a half to two minutes before she gave me enough sustained focus before we even took a step towards the entrance.
And it was quite literally one step before she disengaged and started scanning again. It was one step at a time until we got into the building–it got better each step, she was self correcting into the desired position, but still was not as smooth as I would like. It can’t always be perfect and I made my point that what was getting her closer to the door was attention and a loose leash (either one of those).
Once we got inside it was AWESOME. Shayne practiced lots of Rally-O behaviors. She practiced slow, normal, and fast heeling with lots of distractions. She practiced sit stays, down stay, sit-down-sit, sit and down walk-around-dog, and was doing some great self-correcting finish-lefts (if she wasn’t squared up she’d self correct nicely). She really was heeling beautifully throughout the store and I was super proud of her.
When I work in such a high distraction environment I pay her well. She can, and has, done work in stores without being paid with food (I use “go sniff” as a reward in those cases) but I think paying her really well when I can sets her up to do well if I don’t have rewards (it’s like putting money in the bank for later).
Four different people approached me and commented how well behaved Shayne/Rio were and each and every time I smile and respond, “Thank you, we work really hard.” An older woman stopped me from across the main aisle and was really just taken aback by how well behaved Shayne was and “how she looks at you with such love and joy” (that alone was an amazing compliment). I told her, like the others, “Thanks! We work really hard!” she responded by saying she’s had a clicker and treats at home for months but just hasn’t had the motivation to start training her dog. Then she made my day by saying, “Watching you with your dog really inspires me to train my dog. I’m going to go home tonight and find my clicker and treats and get to work! Thanks for the inspiration!” It doesn’t get much better than that my friends, it really doesn’t!
Okay… Rio in reindeer antlers is really close to being better but not quite!