Applying Training to Real Life


Skills drills in dog training is practicing basic obedience with various levels of distractions and incorporating distance and duration. For example, training a dog to sit, down and stay while walking away a certain distance and then calling the dog to come and sit and down again. Perhaps the dog can do it from a distance of 3 feet while staying for a few seconds with all the other dogs out of sight and after time and practice, work towards the goal of coming straight to the handler through a gauntlet of dogs from 40 feet away after being asked to stay for two minutes. Arguably much harder.

So tonight it’s the 4th group class (out of 6) and the dogs are all developing sounder foundation skills within class. Most of the dogs are coming, sitting, lying down, ignoring their doggy friends during work time. Handlers are pleased with results and clearly aware measurable improvement is occuring.

But then there’s this problem and I can’t figure out how to fix it. It happens in group and private training sessions. During the drills, when being given a set of directions to follow, the handlers do pretty well. But then when real life rears its ugly head they completely forget what they’ve been working on and revert to their instinct which is usually counter productive to training the dog.

Example 1:
Adolescent chocolate lab who has typical lab enthusiasm but when able to focus does a very amazing job at all the skills — he’ll sit, down, stay, and when asked to “touch” will come flying over to his handler, touch her palm gently with his wet nose and grin. Handler practices several times, always the dog does well.

Handler comes to class tonight and dog gets loose in parking lot before she comes into the training class. I watch her from a different part of the parking lot. She says nothing and immediately starts chasing the dog, finally catching up and grabbing his leash. He gets away again and starts running about again. She says nothing, chases after him and grabs his leash.

I asked her, “why didn’t you ask him to ‘come’ or ‘touch’?” She looks at me with a look that says, “oh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Example 2:
Single woman in large studio apartment with a small toy dog. She complains that the dog plays keep away games when it’s time for her to leave to go to work and she chases the dog for a long time. I learn that the dog understands come and sit and down and short short stays. I’m pretty impressed. I ask the owner, “when do you practice or use these skills?” “When my friends are over or I’m at my friends’ houses with the dog.”

I ask, “why don’t you practice these things when you’re alone with the dog so she’ll listen to you?”. “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?”

So feel free to comment and share your thoughts on how to help me understand how to get people to understand that the reason you teach or train your dog for certain skills is so that in real life the dog can be safe to others, itself and be a pleasure to have around. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it is, do.