Friday, January 7, 2011

You Want Me To Do That Where?!?

Like may trainers, if I had a dollar for everytime someone came to me with a plantive cry of, "But she always does it at home!" or "But he's so good in class!" I could retire from my day job and move someplace where it isn't so cold that my eye lashes freeze to my eye brows everytime I go outside. The trouble behind complaints like these stems from a concept called "generalization." As often as you hear dog owners lament that their pet only follows orders in one place or the other, you will hear dog trainers say, "Dogs don't generalize well."

I tried to find a really good definition for generalization, but it turns out that this is one of those concepts that easier to understand than it is to explain understandably. Mirriam-Webster defines generalization as "the act or process whereby a learned response is made to a stimulus similar to but not identical with the conditioned stimulus." That's nice and simple, right? (pretend you heard that last sentence in a really sarcastic voice) In dog training terms, generalization is a dogs ability to take a learn concept from one enviroment into another.

So say your proverbial cat sits on the hot stove top. She won't sit on the hot stove top anymore, but neither will she sit on a cold one. That's generalization. But what if it's the same stove in a different house? Or a different stove? Or the same stove with different burners? That's the tricky part of generalization.

Many people forget that generalization is more than just a change in location - it's anything new, from the time of day to the number of people watching (just ask anyone who competes with their dog). Rubi and I will be working on generalization for the rest of her life. Thanks to our second round of Changing Attitudes, I now know what she's capable of around other dogs. Relaxation isn't just a lofty ideal anymore; it's an attainable goal. Now that we've built that foundation - in one little room with one type of flooring at a certain time of day with a limited number of other dogs - it's time to start taking that behavior on the road.

Since finishing CA, Rubi and I have been hanging out in the lobby at TCOTC. Same building, but it's a very different area. It's connects to the ring room, where most of the obedience classes are held, and where everyone else goes through to get to their classes. There's a lot of dog and people traffic, and the lobby isn't as big as the CA classroom, so it's harder to get away from things when B does get over stimulated. Our first few forays into the lobby went fairly well. I've come to really cherish the strategy of throwing a handful of treats on the ground when another dog reacts at Rubi. In addition to taking B's mind off the other dog, it also sends that dog a calming signal: no big deal here, I'm just sniffing the ground.

Last Wednesday pretty much sucked, though. Looking through the perfection of hindsight, I can really see that I expected to much from B in a newish area after two weeks on holiday. Before, we had spent the majority of time in the lobby just watching the other dogs. But this time I really wanted B to do stuff, and that didn't go over so well. It think it added stress and, as a result, she was more prone to reacting. Of course, the two weeks off didn't help, either. We're really too early in our training for me to expect B to behave after being away from other dogs for extended periods of time. Really, the week between classes is too long to go between interacting with largish amounts of other dogs, but gosh darn it, it's cold out, and there aren't many places where we can be comfortable (physically and mentally) around other dogs.

On the other hand, dig through enough cloud and usually, you'll uncover some silver. I mean, we didn't die, no one got bit - those always fit into the "Column of Good." While the other dogs were in their rings, I did manage to get B to lie on her side long enough to get a picture. Although she sure doesn't look relaxed.

Come to think of it, we were able to work on some actual conditioned relaxation - not forced or pseudo forced. While doing mat work, she put her head down twice, and I was able to marked/rewarded that. She also hip bumped a few times for me. So, yay! there. We were also able to practice our CGC greetings sans Gentle Leader, thanks to the generousity and patience of our friends, Jen and Blue. Oh, and I got this awesome picture of me torturing B - er, I mean, practicing impluse control by putting treats on her paws and getting eye contact before releasing her to eat them.

Actually, she doesn't look very happy in that picture, either. Of course, I'm not sure I wouldn't be thinking, "But . . . but . . . why me?" if someone handed me a big chunk of chocolate and told me I couldn't eat it.

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