“My dog knows it! He’s just being stubborn.” Do you find yourself saying this when your dog doesn’t follow your cue? We are guilty of thinking or saying this statement. I did it out of embarrassment in training class before I became a trainer.
What is happening with the dog is a lack of “generalization” of the behavior. My dog would do the behavior with some success in my living room. But I didn’t practice it with him in other places – the bedroom, garage, backyard, etc. I expected him to perform like he did in my living room in a highly distractible place of the classroom and also I felt peer pressure. I uttered the words, He knows it! By practicing in only one place and then “blaming the dog” when he didn’t perform in another place, I set both of us up for failure.
Cheri Spaulding, Dog Trainer
The first thing to do is remove unhelpful words from my training vocabulary. “He knows it!”, “My dog is stubborn!” and “No!” are the top three on my list of words to be banned. They translate into blaming the dog.
Instead, look for the behavior you ask for, your dog can either do it or not. That’s the test of his ability.
If they can’t perform as requested, let’s work on teaching them better.
Set up the environment, and break down the behaviors you want into easily understood parts; then give your dog rewards for a job well done.
Work on “sit” in a quieter area for a while; then move to progressively noisier areas for your practices. Giving better rewards for your dog’s success helps too. Kibble is for sustenance, not a reward for “sit.” And it’s certainly not enough reward for coming to you at the dog park! That should earn your dog 60 seconds of constant happy talk AND a constant flow of special rewards, used only for those really hard wins. Your dog will remember getting the special rewards and will be more willing to “Come” the next time.
If you are really stumped on how to teach your dog any behavior you want, i.e. “Come” when called, contact an experienced trainer who can help you break down the parts of such a complex chain of behaviors. Yes, to your dog, coming when called can be a pretty hard thing to learn, especially when there are distractions. With consistency, practice and sufficient motivation, your dog can learn to come when called.
Dogs learn by association. When you get your training tools out and call your dog to the spot where you usually practice, they get pretty excited.
Behaviors you have practiced with success before mostly goes pretty smoothly. But what happens when you change something? When you sit instead of stand? Or when you take your dog to practice in another location? From the living room to the garage?
I often have my students, who are standing while asking their dog for a behavior they have practiced for several weeks, to sit in a chair and then ask their dog for the same behavior. Often the dog has trouble following the cue, at least at first. That small change to us can be huge to our dogs. The dog didn’t suddenly become stubborn. They are still learning the cue, and they need more practice.
If your dog has not yet “generalized” the behavior, then it’s likely they will struggle a little when the training environment has changed. All you have to do is back up your training expectations for a short time, and give your dog time to practice and learn that they can “sit” or “come” in many different places and situations.
Once I learned the basic training principles and how dogs learn, my training sessions went much more smoothly. There are still times when either my dog or I get frustrated. I try to remember to walk away, take a few breaths, give my dog a break and then come back to try again. There are still times my dog or I do things that can be embarrassing in public, but I try to laugh it off as silly animal behavior – on both our parts.
You can find Rock Nest Training & Pet Care LLC at facebook.com/rocknestpetcare/, ocknestpetcare.com or call Cheri at 541-895-3162.