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  • Writer's pictureCarla

I don't understand. He trains beautifully at home!

It's a sentence that we hear daily in training enquiries from frustrated caregivers.

But if we take a moment to step back and see the full experience comparison, we can start to understand why dogs find generalising training skills more tricky outside of the home.

Imagine this...

You've struggled with the timings for your Sunday Roast making for years, but you've finally cracked it! Sunday morning arrives, you kick your family into the lounge and pop on a podcast for easy listening.

You've been trying and trying with organisation, until you've now got the roasties down to the perfect crisp, and you've not left the parsnips to die a sorry charred death! The gravy is consistency perfection and your family is impressed with your efforts, deeming you completely capable at smashing the Sunday Roast skills at home.

Well done, you!

In fact, rumours have been spreading so much that you've been asked to start cooking at a local restaurant and mimic that exact Sunday roast! What an honour!

You're nervous at the prospect, but you take the plunge and figure that you've got the skills so let's go!

On arrival, you are greeted by 5 members of staff, eagerly quizzing you about ingredients, under the dazzling bright lights of the kitchen.

The ovens are huge and you've never seen half the buttons on them before.

The layout of the kitchen means that there are not obvious stations for preparation, and you are unsure as to your time deadlines for service.

People are asking questions about things that you'd normally know the answers to but the space is becoming unbearably hot, the restaurant is loud and you haven't managed to nab a glass of water.

You thought that the experience would be easier because you have been so successful in your Sunday Roasts at home. But the environment is so different to what you know that it's impossible to focus on your tasks.


Back to dogs:

When training at home, your dog has familiar surroundings, smells, sounds and distractions. The environment is predictable which takes away the need to pay it much attention.

The second that they step out of the door, environment conditions change monumentally and the situation demands a lot of attention (perhaps all of it).

There are cars whizzing past, whooshing air across the ground (and leaves with it). The cat across the road is climbing up a wall over the road away from the garden of the barking Jack Russell. The pushchair wheels are squeaking as they chauffer chatty little mouths to the nursery just 10 doors down. To top off the environment changes, a young Labrador in the road has come into season and the scent is carried in the wind to the space that you're walking.

As a lorry suspension spits out a few meters away before passing, you ask Fido to SIT.

As caregivers, our job is to assist dogs in learning how to deal with the environment by first practising EASY games in QUIET environments outside of the home.

Proofing needs to happen at the pace of the dog.

Expecting a dog to perform a task in a space with multiple environmental triggers as soon as they've mastered it in a familiar space, is setting them up for failure.

Go slow.

One easy task at a time...

Photo: Pepper and Bodhi in Dancing with Dogs. Two families who have worked hard on building proofing slowly :)

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