Today’s topic is a dog’s biggest learning disadvantage. Dogs are brilliant creatures, anywhere from how they can use their nose to how obedient they can be. Their ability to protect us, interact with other animals and herd them, and even do practical work. They’re incredibly smart and can do a variety of things. I don’t think that we could have a better partner on this Earth than a dog. They’re just incredible.
With that being said, I’m a dog trainer, and sometimes I have to face the limitations of what their intelligence can do. And so today, I wanted to cover what a dog’s most significant learning disadvantage is, and I’ll show you what you can do about it.
So the biggest learning disadvantage that a dog has is how slow a dog will generalize a behavior. Okay, so let’s unpack that real quick. For example, the behavior could be your dog sitting on the left-hand side of your body. Let’s say that you’ve been teaching your dog to sit by your left-hand side in a hallway in your house, and you’re reinforcing it. You’re teaching the dog the queue. They’re performing the skill when they’re doing the queue, and it looks like it’s automatic.
And then you go outside to your front yard, and a little kid is rolling around riding on their bicycle, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got the same scenario. You’re asking the dog to do the same thing with the same cues, and your dog doesn’t do it. And time and time again, you’re going to run into this. Even though your dog showed complete understanding in one place, you show up somewhere that maybe it hasn’t practiced that before. And it’s like it’s never heard it in its entire life.
This is a dog’s biggest struggle. How slowly they will understand that they should perform the same thing from environment to environment. What that does to us is it puts us in a predicament because we have to be as consistent as we can be from environment to environment.
So that probably makes sense. Right? You have to be consistent when you’re training your dog. You hear us saying that all the time. Well, this is the reason why, because a dog struggles to generalize. So not only do you have to go through an obedience class or take your dog through the process of learning what a particular behavior is and what cues are associated and what rewards and punishments are associated with it.
Then you have to systematically take your dog into a multitude of environments where you’re going to be starting over each time you show up to the new environment. So that way, your dog can then begin to understand that it’s the same thing everywhere you go. What you’ll notice is as you start the process of generalizing your dog’s behaviors from environment to environment. They will get to a point where you’ll be able to take them to a brand new environment and ask them to do what they’ve done, and they will be able to do it.
But it is much slower than what it is for a human. I tell this to people all the time. I walk into new homes multiple times a week, meet people that I’ve never met before in houses that I’ve never been in. And yet there are chairs and sofas and all these pieces of furniture in front of me, and I know exactly what to do with them, and I’ve never seen them before. We’re a dog would struggle with that.
And so, a human advantage is our ability to be able to generalize quickly. This is something that some of you that have taken group obedience courses might actually do. You go to a dog training facility, take this course, and then come home, and you’re able to do the same things you learned in the course. But you will notice sometimes it is a little bit of a struggle to take that from place to place, but you’re going to get it a lot faster than your dog is.
So what are the two big tips here? Well, I can think of three now. The first one is, be patient with your dog. Two, be super consistent in showing your dog the exact same thing each time. And then three, go to several different places to show your dog that it’s exactly the same and make it super rewarding for them each time you head out.