How Dogs Learn
Dogs are really smart, they can learn commands very quickly when motivated. So why on earth is Sparky just ignoring you in front of your friends when you’re trying to show off that great trick you’ve done together so many times? Or peed on the carpet when visiting grandma for the holidays, even though he’s been house trained for years? Or only listens in obedience class? This is rarely because dogs are being stubborn and more to do with how they learn.
Why won’t they just do it?
Because dogs can be so smart it can be easy to forget that their brains work differently than ours. Us humans are very good at something called “generalizing” which basically means we can learn a rule in a specific situation and realize it applies to other situations. Such as “Take off muddy shoes before walking through the house.” means take off your muddy shoes before walking through any house. Dogs tend to struggle with generalizing which means that they may know not to pee in their house but not necessarily when they’re at Grandma’s.
What to do about It?
It’s generally recommended to return to basic training whenever you change locations or other aspects of the environment to show your dog that the same rules apply. The more you practice in new situations the more your dog will begin to generalize. Typically you won’t need to stay in basic training for very long; a couple reminders and practices are often all you need to get the point across if it’s something the dogs knows fairly well already. Check out Tammy’s post “Help! My dog isn’t listening to me!” for
Examples of Basics:
- Using more obvious/exaggerated hand signals
- Giving extra rewards
- Make sure that you’ve been using the same commands and hand signals
- Using crates, gates or leashing your dog when visiting other houses
- Being extra patient with yourself and the dog
Resources to dig deeper:
- Try this free online class, Dog Emotion, and Cognition on Coursea
- The Genius Of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
- Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
- Dog Star Daily podcast 6.01 The Myth of Intent
By Nea Deptuch, Dog Trainer at Tammy’s Training Canine Services