Something that we hear often is that someone's dog will listen really well in a training class or when the trainer is there with the dog. This is actually a good problem to have! That is because it shows that your dog has learned to do the behaviors that you are trying to teach them. Unfortunately it also means that you likely only practiced in class, or, when you practiced at home there were some variations in how and if you rewarded your dog for good behavior. It is important that your dog learn to generalize any behaviors that are learned in a classroom environment to their real world scenarios. You want your dog to listen at home, when on walks, at the pet store and anywhere else you may take them. Follow these tips below to ensure your dog can learn to listen regardless of the environment.
Tip One: Placement Of Treats.
Whether you go to a training class or you are on a walk, we often encourage people to get a treat pouch. I know I know, it's not the most fashionable accessory but there are some pretty cute ones on the market and we are taking the style back! When you are training at home though, you want to vary where your treats are so your dog doesn't assume that a treat pouch means it is the only time to learn. In fact, the treat pouch can be a cue for them to learn and a cue for them to listen. No treat pouch, no attention.
Try having a training session when there are treats in a dish on a counter nearby. You could ask your dog to go through the motions just like you would be doing normally but instead of simply handing them a treat from your pocket or pouch, walk to the counter, get a treat and then deliver it to your dog. It's important to know that if you are going to have your treats at a distance from where you want to reward your dog, we encourage using clicker or marker training to ensure your dog has a clear training loop and understands what you are asking of them. You can also have small airtight canisters on shelves in different rooms so anytime you need to ask your dog to do a behaviour like Leave It, Place, or get off the couch, you can reward that behavior when it happens without having to go to the kitchen or the counter to get your dog a treat. It also means that treats are always nearby and handy.
Tip Two: Cookies Must Happen.
We know you do not want to give your dog a ton of treats,but, why not? We do not work for free and neither will your dog! If you want to see your dog's behavior continue to improve, you have to be prepared to reinforce that behavior. One of the most common mistakes we see is people rewarding heavily, and properly, in a training class or consultation, but when one-on-one with their own dog, they are much more stingy and may use a lower value treat. That basically tells the dog that it is more important that they listen during a training class than it is for them to listen in a real world scenario. Be consistent in what you are rewarding with and how you're rewarding in the beginning to ensure your dog has a proper foundation.
When it is time to wean the use of treats, there is a very specific way to do this to make sure your dog does not learn to ignore you, or that we inadvertently punish good behavior. If you think your dog is ready to wean off of treats then you want to start by having a variable rate of reinforcement. This means giving one treat for good behavior and maybe the next time to get toy play and the next time to get to treats and then the next time they get 1 or maybe get a lower value treat. The reinforcement starts to be varied but it is still always happening.
Tip Three: Actually Do The Work.
Now I know life gets crazy and it can be hard to set aside time to actually work with your dog. What it comes down to is that you are the only one who is going to hold yourself accountable to take care of your dog. Your dog is perfectly fine living life being a rowdy, chaotic dog who lives life to the fullest. That can be fine if that is OK for your lifestyle, but most people really want a well behaved, well mannered dog. Remember you get what you work for. You don't need to set aside an hour every day to make sure you are reinforcing good behaviors to stay consistent with the lessons you learn in class or in consultation. If you could set aside even 15 minutes per day or 15 minutes every other day to make sure you are going through the behaviors that are most important to you, that is going to make the most difference in your dog's behavior.
Maybe Sunday you have plenty of free time so you can do 15 minutes of training at home, but Monday you have to go to work. When you come home from work, take your dog out for a potty break and do 5 or 10 minutes of training while you're outside. Maybe on Tuesday you have to take the kids to school, after you drop them off pull over at a park and take your dog out for a quick 5 minute training session before you head back home. There are small things you can do that will add up to big results over time. The bottom line is to make sure that you commit the time on a regular basis to reinforce your dog's learning so they can understand what you want from them.
So there you have it. Real world training does not have to be much more complicated than any other training that you are already doing with your dog. What it comes down to is being consistent and making sure that you are reinforcing your dog in the right way when you need to do it. If you want a little bit more guidance we have a free guide on optimizing your training session with your dog to make sure you are making the most of your short time together. This free guide will help you identify what types of treats you should use with your dog and even how to train smarter to maximize your dog's potential. We also give you a free worksheet on planning out your dog's training session to make sure you're setting them up for success each time.