Sunday, 16 February 2014

Teaching your dog to obey any command in any situation

It is necessary to teach your dog each command in more than one environmental situation - so not just at home or in a training class, but in the garden, in the park, in the middle of a children's play area, at a farm or anywhere else that is safe and available to you, and where you are likely to take your dog in the future.  

It is important to do this because dogs demonstrate what is known as context specific learning - you may also see it referred to as 'proofing' a command. Therefore, if you only ever practice a sit-stay with your dog in the kitchen of your home for example, he may not perform a sit-stay in another location.  When you teach a dog a command, he associates not only the word or signal you are using with the command you are trying to teach, but also other things that are around him - such as smells, perhaps the texture of the surface he is sitting on, or the fact that he is on a leash and in a training class with other dogs.  You can use this learning trait to your advantage if you have an anxious dog and you want to encourage calm behaviour in a situation that the dog finds stressful - but I will cover that in another post.      

You have to help your dog focus in on the fact that it is the word or signal (or both) that is important not the other environmental factors, so once your dog understands what you require, move to a slightly noisier, more distracting location and teach him the command there too. Once he is reliable there, move again to a yet more demanding location and repeat the process.  Don't try to force your dog, you will just make him lose confidence in you and put back his training. 

Always set your dog up for success - so if you want to try a sit-stay in the park, don't go when chidren are having an exciting game of chase-the-ball and he wants to join in.  Start off on a quiet day when there are no children, then perhaps behind a bush or building so that he can hear but not see the children, then as he improves perhaps sitting with his back to the fun but his focus on you, before he graduates to being able to sit and focus on you and the command and ignores the children playing nearby. 

Each dog is different so will need to adjust your training to suit his rate of progress.  As with all dog training, you will not achieve this quickly, and depending upon what you are trying to teach your dog, it could take months - so persevere! Your progress will depend upon the strength of the bond between you and your dog, how willing he is to work for you, the dog's breed, its age, how it was raised, its innate ability to learn, your ability to communicate your requirements to your dog and reward appropriate responses, and your ability to make sure you don't inadvertently reward undesired responses.