As a dog owner, we love to take our pets to new places. Perhaps to sit outside the corner cafe, or walk the strip, or sometimes on a nice camping trip. In any of these circumstances, both for safety and ease of living, having a dog that listens to us is essential. However, I consistently hear owners admit that their dogs will listen to them at home, but not anywhere else. So where is the link in the chain that’s missing? Owners usually spend the majority of their time training their dogs inside the house, because collectively that’s where they are with their animals 90 percent of the time. Unfortunately, part of dog training is generalization and if you only practice behaviors in one place, when you move to a place that’s different the behavior becomes new again. “Sit” all of a sudden doesn’t mean the same thing when a ball is going by, or if another dog is in front of their face, or if there’s a lizard jumping in the grass. So how do we get what we’ve taught them to mean the same thing everywhere?
Take it on the Road: Visit Pet friendly establishments to practice your behaviors. The more places you visit, the more these new experiences will become second nature to your dog. In addition, you’ll be allowing your dog the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned with an added challenge. This also makes it so that your cues become consistent no matter where you are.
Give Good Cookies: Most dogs can get overwhelmed by their environment and their motivator quickly becomes whatever they can get to, to smell first. In order to even get their attention in these locations to begin practicing what they know at home, you have to have the better motivator. For some dogs, this can be as easy as some soft dog treats from the local pet store…and for others this might be a hot dog.
Be consistent: Sometimes we can get frustrated when our dogs are more distracted and just allow the unfavorable behavior to go uninterrupted. Well, no matter what, make every bit of life consistent. The more consistent you are, the greater chance that your dog will realize that the only way forward or to success is to comply with what is asked of him/her. Even if you have to take five minutes to get that one “sit” before you let them go say hello, take that time and make it happen.
Work in Short Sessions: There’s no need to spend several hours out during a training session getting your dog to be perfect in every situation. Get a few behaviors in, here and there, and then allow the dog to explore their world as a reward for remaining attentive. A lot of handlers can overdo it and call for the dog to work for the entire duration without getting the opportunity to just do dog things. This over-saturates them and causes them to become less motivated. Reduction in motivation can result in refusal to listen because the dog doesn’t get a chance to decompress so takes the opportunities as they come to him since you aren’t offering it.
Reward the Little Things: Sometimes we can get so focused on the end behavior that we forget to reward the steps in between. For instance, we want our dogs to be focused on us, but forget to reward the mini check-ins they do when they’re out with us. Be attentive and remember to give them encouragement for the baby step.