Generalising simply means, the ability to perform particular behaviours, in different environments. Dogs do not generalise as well as humans. They do not easily transfer a behaviour into different situations.
Dogs learn and acquire knowledge by associating and connecting events with cues. These cues are visual hand signals and body language. And they are verbal directions, affections and commands . A dogs learning is increases by cause-and-effect. A positive experience with food rewards promote a positive training experience. Dogs instinctively take into consideration how their current situation compares with their past experience. Generalisation expands your dogs positive experiences and increases their aptitude for training and learning.
This inability to generalise can have serious consequences if we take our dog into a new and vulnerable environment assuming that they have solid foundation of training and particularly the “recall”.
Generalisation can be described as transferring a behaviour from a familiar situation to less familiar. For example, your dog may understand the command to “Sit” and do so easily when they have been rewarded inside your house. However, if they were commanded to sit outdoors there is a good chance they would not understand the command and what is expected of them. The “sit” behaviour has not been generalised to the unfamiliar situation.
Eventually, we ask our dog to transfer a behaviour they have already learnt to a different environment away from where they were initially taught.
To begin generalising you must be satisfied that you have a solid behaviour. ‘Proof’ the behaviour to the necessary level. Only then is it time to move to different locations, with different distractions, and with you in multiple positions.
Lower your expectation when you begin to generalise a behaviour in a new environment or different position. And reinforce them for offering the behavior even if it is approximate at first.
I am in favour of approximations as a means of progressing your dogs training. Lure your dog with a high value treat. As your lure into position, you dog begins to understand you command and expectation.
Generalising is not difficult and youcan generalise behaviours to any level of competence. Teaching your dog to “sit stay” for a progressively extended duration is quite easy to achieve. Simply ‘proof’ the behaviour to the necessary level.
Remember that you should not correct your dog for any failure of behaviour that you have not taught or in situations you have not yet trained in.
Always ‘proof’ and “generalise” emergency behaviours such as the “recall”. Teaching your dog to generalise the “recall” is perhaps the most critical behaviour that your dog learn.
“Proof” the ‘recall’ by training in as many different scenarios and locations as possible. Will your dog “come” when someone else is feeding him? Will they “come” when there is a cat in sight or when they are playing with other dogs?
When you are teaching your dog to generalise, practice the behaviour in the familiar place before moving to the new location.
Use high value rewards and respond to your dogs success in a very excited manner and particularly in the new place. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your dog will be able to perform the behaviour easily in the new location. Just keep going back to the beginning. When you are teaching a new behaviour, revert regularly to easy behaviours that your dog knows already. Build confidence and build success. Wait until your dog is calm and not distracted. In a new environment, give your dog time to adjust, familiarise and settle.
Generalising behaviours is a critical aspect of dog training not least Labrador Retrievers. And it will become easier and more natural for a dog if they are given sufficient variety and repetition in their training. Remember that the success of each session can depend on factors like how hungry or tired your dog is.
Make small and gradual advances, taking time to let your dog absorb a behaviour before moving forward.
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