We humans tend to be much more predictable than we realize. Our dogs know it, but we don’t. Because of our predictability, sometimes the reliability of our dogs’ training is not as strong as we think it is.
Let me give you an example. In some of my classes, recently, I have been challenging my students to get out of their predictable patterns and change the contexts of their training sessions. In the majority of cases, when people are training their dogs, they stand face-to-face with their dogs. Dogs get pretty reliable at responding to sit, down, watch me, etc., when standing face-to-face. But things start to fall apart when the dog is now at your side. Or five feet away from you. Or in some other context you have not practiced. Slight changes in context can make a huge impact on our dogs if we have been stuck in practicing in the exact same context all the time.
In my classes the other week, I asked people to sit on the floor and ask their dogs to do things like sit, down and watch me. Then I asked them to lie on the floor and try again. Guess what happens to the dogs when people get down on the floor? Since most people never think to try a training session with the people in different positions, most dogs fail miserably at this test. Some dogs think it’s play time. Others seem to look confused. Others figure this would be a good time to go do something else since mom has clearly lost her marbles.
If you think training with your dog while you lie on the floor is a waste of time, listen to this. We had practiced this exercise in one of my classes the week before. When we were discussing how their weeks had gone, one student had a story to tell. She was out walking her dog during the week as usual. She hit a spot in the sidewalk that was uneven, and she tripped and feel flat on the ground and lost her hold of the leash. There she was sprawled on the pavement with her dog loose. She said “Sit!” and her dog immediately sat. She was then able to get up and get hold of the leash and continue on her walk.
Would her dog have been able to sit immediately like that if she had not just been practicing having her dog respond while she was lying flat on the ground? Perhaps. But I’m glad she’d just been practicing it.
You never know when those goofy changes in context that your trainer makes you practice might just come in very very handy!