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, 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.