Features October 2008 Issue

Dog Trainers Use of Generalizing a Behavior

What “generalization” is, and how to teach it to your dog.

But he does it at home!” Usually uttered in a plaintive wail, this common dog owner complaint is often heard in dog training classes, among other places. When one of my students says this, I reassure them that I believe their dog probably does perform the behavior in question with a high degree of reliability in the comfort of his own home. The fact that he won’t do it in class is usually a generalization issue; the owner has only practiced the behavior with her dog at home. He doesn’t know he’s supposed to do it other places. According to authors Mary Burch, PhD, and Jon Bailey, PhD, in their excellent book, How Dogs Learn, “Generalization occurs when behaviors are seen in contexts other than those in which they were originally trained.” Simply stated, this means practicing with your dog in different places, at different times of the day, under different conditions, in the presence of different people, dogs, and a variety of other distractions.

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