The Gap

We’ve all read it a hundred times: just because your dog can “Sit” in your kitchen doesn’t mean you can expect him to do it in the park. Depending on how excitable your dog is, you may notice a slight dip in his speed or accuracy in performing cues.

Or, your dog may be perfect in the house, and then act like he’s never even seen you before when you leave home.

If you do your job in training, it is entirely possible to dramatically minimize the gap between “good” behavior in boring environments and “bad” behavior in distracting ones.

The trick to doing this is to gradually increase the level of distraction that your dog works around. Move to a different room in your house. Put a window slightly up. Have someone else bounce a ball. Open the door, if you have a fenced yard. Go work in the most boring section of your yard. When you find a level of distraction that gives your dog a little pause, stay there until it doesn’t, and then move on to something else.

I know how this works. Unfortunately, I’m pretty bad at doing it. Couple my fairly limited environment–this is not exactly a mansion with palatial grounds–with Silas’s random environmental issues, and we’ve tended to hit some hurdles.

At the same time that an uncertain or anxious dog has a different set of challenges in generalizing behavior, it’s also especially important. Anything I can do to convince Silas that the world works the same, no matter where we are, helps him. On the flip side, when your dog has a few . . . behavior quirks, a well-placed cue can be tremendously useful. If you can get the dog to listen.

I’m going to use the rest of my space here to brainstorm the next set of “distractions” for Silas, who is afraid of lots of things. We’re working on a heel/turn exercise that is designed to keep him out of trouble. Because this is expressly intended to be used in hard circumstances–a person who startles him, for instance, it needs to be solid. (He’s a little dog; I can physically remove him from situations. But that tends to add stress and negative associations, which will help intensify bad reactions.) My first challenge is that Silas completely shuts down if I try to use his leash indoors. You’ll see that there are some weird progressions here–for “average” dogs this list would look a lot different.

Walk With Me
–in house, no leash
–in house with me holding his leash
–increased distractions in house (work up to doing these while holding leash)
–toys on floor (move up from the boring toys)
–husband walking around
–food on floor
–husband bouncing ball
–add clip and unclip leash to previous order of distractions
–add clip/unclip AND hold leash to previous order of distractions
–garage, no leash
–front blinds open
–add dragging leash to previous indoor distractions (maybe look for a short tab leash.)
–Once I can hold the leash, add open front door
–Start working at the most boring part of the park
–Work in front yard
–Garage, leash
–More park
–Garage, leash, gradually work up to the door being open

Some of these will just be a quick check. Some of them will take serious work. I’m also working on the leash thing in other contexts, so hopefully that issue will fade soon. In the meantime, I’m also working on some of his “easy” behaviors, like a nose touch, to get him more used to listening to cues out in the world.

7 thoughts on “The Gap

  1. You face challenges with Silas that I’ve never considered…You make me wonder how it would be for me if I had to consider these training issues…Bravo to you for all your hard work


  2. Sounds like a great plan. Good luck.

    We will be working on many of the same things with Freighter. His obedience is good, but add a quack, quack, bang and ducks at a hunt test and he becomes unglued. The problem is that it is very difficult to duplicate that environment and you cannot train at a test (it is the rules). His grandpa Thunder was the same at his age, but eventually he matured and was much better. But we are really going to work that obedience!


    1. That’s our big problem, too–not the hunting environment per se, but that that I can’t actually replicate Silas’s weakest link. He hates being surprised by things, which it’s pretty hard to plan in advance. You just have to test and train in as many ways as you can and hope it holds.


      1. Yes I think repetition is the key. One time when Thunder and Storm were young, we took them to a gun range and worked on obedience in the parking lot. We hoped that with all of the gun fire, it would somewhat duplicate the gunfire at a hunt test. Didn’t work, they knew they weren’t shooting ducks…lol.


  3. Wow – that’s quite the list! I guess all you can do is tackle it one item at a time. I have no doubt that you’ll whittle that list down in no time! Silas is definitely not your average dog – but like you’ve said before, where’s the fun in that? 🙂


    1. It is a long list, but what tends to happen is that you hit a tipping point. By the time I’m halfway down the list, it will probably only take one or two repetitions of the rest of those things before he gets it.


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