Generalizing a Behavior

Below is an example of what I mean when I say that dogs do not generalize well. 

I have been working with my Strutter on a controlled retrieve as needed for a Service Dog task.  All the training I had done with him was in my training room.  You may have seen the videos on my Facebook page of the progression from just taking the dumbbell in his mouth, to holding it for a few seconds, to carrying it and finally retrieving it on cue and bringing it to me.  We then added a new item – a wooden spoon. 

Last night I was working with Strutter in my kitchen.  I placed the wooden spoon on the floor and asked Strutter to retrieve it.  He immediately went to the spoon, picked it up and then headed to the living room – never coming back to me.  That cue was not generalized.  He got the part to pick it up but returning to me went out the window. 

So we “went back to kindergarten”.  Back in the kitchen with Strutter sitting in front of me, I handed him the wooden spoon and then clicked and immediately took the spoon back and treated him.  We did a few rounds of that and then, after giving him the spoon, I asked him to hold.  After a second or two, I clicked, took the spoon from him and treated him.  We did that a few times and then we added the carry.  While holding the spoon, I walked backward and had him follow me.  I then stopped, clicked, took the spoon and treated him.  After a couple rounds of that, I set the spoon on the floor a few feet from me, cued Strut to retrieve the spoon and he went to it, picked it up and brought it to me.  While the initial training of the retrieve took a several days, the entire process last night took about 5 – 10 minutes. 

Is the retrieve cue now generalized? Absolutely not.  I will have to repeat that process in any number of locations, adding additional distractions. 

The point of this Thought of the Day is for you to remember that, when your dogs does a behavior perfectly for you in the privacy of your home and then acts like he has no idea what you are talking about when you ask for that behavior in public, your dog is not being defiant or stubborn.  He simply does not yet realize that when you give him the cue in this new environment that it means the same thing that it means when you cue him at home.  You need to take the time to proof the cue in many locations so everyone can see the rock-star that you see at home.