Diesel is the newest member to our household.  He is a 13 week old Rottweiler puppy who is full of character and zest.  He is one of those puppies that even through his naughtiness, he makes you laugh.  So, every morning I do a training session with this boy.  We are working on a plethera of things such as; cooperative care, shaping skills, body awareness, confidence, and obedience skills.  One of the skills I highly value is a dog who can heel when asked.  So to set the stage for the story…Diesel and I have been working “value buidling” to heel position next to the loveseat in our basement, with the loveseat being the barrier.  Along with value buidling we have also been working on his ability to move into heel position using hand targets to prompt the behavior.  He has been doing so well the last several training sessions.  He quickly pops into position and also maintains there while I deliver anywhere from 5-10 cookies.  Due to this, I had the bright idea to begin taking one step next to the loveseat to teach him how to move with and stop next to me.  This worked GREAT…next to the loveseat.  And now comes the challange…so as I get to the end of the loveseat (which only allows for about two steps) I realize there is no where to go.  So as I look to my right I notice the entertainment stand.  Perfect! Right? …or…maybe not.  As I rotate to the entertainment stand I totally lose him.  He hops to the area rug, tries dashing to his “place” and then lies down and stairs at me, confused as ever.  In that moment, I tried to lure him back to heel to keep the exercise going and after two epic fails I realized, I haven’t generalized!!!  My own human error caused so much confusion for poor Diesel.  When I realized what I had done, I chuckled and told him “I know you are right”.  I hadn’t actually taught him how to move to heel and stay in heel in a variety of locations.  This was such a perfect reminder of how small you actually have to break training down to set your dog or puppy up for success.  Therefore, I thought it would be a great topic for our blog.  So, that brings up some common questions.  What is generalization, why should I generalize, and how do I generalize to benefit my dog? 

What is generalization?

Generalization is the act of teaching the same skill in a variety of locations and situations.  To give some real world examples.  This would be like teaching your dog to sit in your living room, then teaching them to sit in your driveway, then teaching them to sit while at the pet store, and so on.  Those examples are locations.  Then, you may look at situations.  This would include things such as, next to a family member, when there’s a guest in your home, in heel position next to you vs. in front facing you, when someone is bouncing a tennis ball, and much more!  The list goes on and on and on regarding the locations and situations you may find you and your dog in.  Teaching your dog to respond in the presence of distractions and in a variety of locations is generalizing.

Why should you generalize?

Generalization is a key factor in building reliability.   Many people want their dog to listen when a guest comes over, but never trains the dog in the presence of guests.  Or want their dog to listen in all situations but don’t train for all sitautions.  There is an element of discipline that occures when training your dog to a point of success in a variety of situations and taking the time to generalize is one of those elements.

How do I generalize?

You want to begin in small chunks.  Doing things like moving from one side of a room to another.  Every dog and puppy are going to have a different level of sensitivity to changes in their environment.  For example, in my story above, Diesel struggled with a change in location in the room, however, I could work with another puppy that it doesn’t seem to phase.  You always want to start small and work big.  That is going to be super important for protecting your puppy’s confidence.  And if you do take too large of a step (such as I did) then just take it back a notch or go back to a point of success and break things down smaller.

So to conclude with my training plan and how I plan to generalize heeling with Diesel.  I am going back to the basics.  I will pick 5 different locations and work value buidling and using hand targets to prompt him into position as if I am teaching it for the first time.  This is where many people fail, they choose to pick-up where the dog or puppy was in the previous location.  However, that is not the proper way to generalize.  Intead you would start as if your dog or puppy knows nothing with that behavior and teach them from scratch in the new location or sitaution.  This is where you have to stay disciplined as a human and your dog’s trainer and not get caught up in the feeling that you are going backwards, because your not!  You are just adding layers of competance and confidence for your dog or puppy and they will love you for it!

Renee Jetter started her career with dogs when she was 9 years old by volunteering for her local animal shelter in Boone, Iowa. By the young age of 12, Renee received the “Pets Choice Award” for her kindness and love of animals, in addition to her dedication and work ethic. Jetter has been professionally training dogs since her graduation from the Animal Behavior College in 2006. She has experience competing in obedience, training service dogs, conducting group classes and teaching private lessons.