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Context of Dog Behavior

by Jeff

Resource #1 Context

“My dog never does that at home!” or “Why are you acting this way?” How many times have we said these things, when our dog behaves in an unexpected way or refuses to do what we’ve asked?

Generalization is the ability to complete a task, perform an activity, or display a behavior across settings, with different dogs and people, at different times. Dogs do not have an ability to quickly generalize. Dogs are highly contextual. Learning to sit for three seconds at home is not the same as performing a sit at the dog park, or the vet. When dogs fail to comply in new settings or in the face of distractions, they aren’t being stubborn, willful, or dominant; they are struggling to meet the demands placed upon them in that specific moment, with unique distractions. They need our help to become successful.

To understand why our dogs may be behaving in an unexpected way, we need to look at context. Let's use daycare as an example. At Unleashed, your dog is in a unique environment which presents specific challenges. There is a huge amount of input and stimulation going on at daycare. In human terms, it is equivalent to the first day of school, summer camp and a heavy metal mosh pit, all rolled into one. Every dog has a behavioral threshold. When they reach this threshold, we start to see unexpected behaviors, such as ignoring commands or becoming reactive to other dogs. Your dog will reach their threshold much more quickly at daycare.

In order for our dogs to truly learn a behavior or skill, we need to train and reinforce that behavior / skill in as many situations as possible. If we want our dog to sit on command, we need to teach them to sit in a wide variety of situations. We start at home and steadily move to more demanding locations. The front door, the sidewalk, the park, a busy store or the dog park, each have a very different context for your dog. This is very confusing for humans, because we do generalize behaviors naturally.

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