Why your dog isn’t stubborn. “They do it so well at home!” Followed by an exasperated sigh or anger.
Many pet parents have seen or done this in a park or other area (I count myself among them). Ideas fly around like geese heading north in the spring time as to why – the dog is stubborn, dominant etc. Why do we constantly look for psychological motivations for our dogs? Because we’re human, and we like to think that there are complex reasons for what others do. Let’s be blunt though. Every animal is behaviour driven.
Dogs do what works. They either seek safety, or avoid danger. Every animal does. Asking a dog to come in distractions will work if there is a proven history of safety & reward AND that history is better than the current distractions. Something else is at play in new areas/distractions influencing the dog not doing something readily done at home.
Dogs don’t generalize well. If I teach a dog to sit in a specific room or local, and then move to a new location and ask the dog to sit, they may very well look around as if to say “But we’re not in the living room, you’re daft! – ask me to do something you’ve taught me here!” *. If that’s the case, what to do?
Something called Proofing. In other words, learning the same thing over and over with different distractions going on around. Sometimes you have to start right from scratch in a new location. To deal with distractions, introduce them so the dog can still be successful. As the number of distractions goes up, the difficulty goes up**. Until the dog knows something, don’t correct the absence of the behaviour. That’s akin to taking away a child’s toys because they can’t do Calculus – they can do math; they can’t do complex algebra or trigonometry let alone find the area under a curve so send them to their room for not being able to do something they haven’t learned?.
So, before you get mad at the dog, or exasperated, think to yourself; “Have I taught my dog how to [insert behaviour here] in this environment?” Then ask yourself; “How can I help you be successful in this situation?”
* Humans are excellent generalizers – if I tell you to sit, you might just sit on the floor if there are no chairs around
** If I learned to catch a football, then someone shoved me on a field, in full gear, in the middle of a stadium with 100,000 people in it and said here, you’re our best shot, get out an catch the winning pass, I’d tell them they were nuts
By Scott Nygren