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  • Writer's pictureJaime

Where should I train my dog?

In short, you should be training your dog in environments that you KNOW your dog will be successful in. This is proven by how you have proofed specific distractions and desensitized them in peaceful ways. You are also working with them in an environment that is ALSO challenging them.

I often hear, "my dog does so well in public BUT.. sometimes they get a little distracted by xyz."

We know that dogs are not perfect but they should be successful in every environment you bring them in. That being said, mistakes do happen but it is almost always the handler's fault for assuming that the dog would be successful or forgetting to train to certain aspects of the environment.

Let me be specific with an example:

Shirley and her puppy Ruby have been practicing their basics in the home. Ruby knows her stays, sits, downs, stands, recalls, rear-end awareness, and has a great offered focus throughout training. Ruby is able to ignore distractions such as thrown toys, dropped food, people calling her name, strangers at the door, weird random everyday noises in the home, and other dogs outside. Ruby ENJOYS working in the house.

Shirly is considering, doing all of these things outside as well. She started with playing city noises on her phone while Ruby was relaxing and letting Ruby just take short potty breaks outside while naming her bathroom-use so that she has better control of communicating a bathroom break to Ruby. She then sits outside with Ruby and lets her process the surroundings for short periods of time. When dogs start approaching, she would increase her distance by moving away from the other dog in a playful manner with Ruby to balance the distraction enough for Ruby to become successful (especially because these dogs are strangers and we do not know how they will act). She slowly let dogs approach closer over time and because Ruby was free to process (and learned to love the handler due to Shirly's playful demeanor), she didn't pay them much attention even when they barked.

What should Shirly's next steps be?

Well, the answer is probably shaping the behaviors Ruby knows in an environment that Ruby hasn't worked them in before; outside. Because Shirly was so thorough with desensitizing Ruby to cars, dogs, people, squirrels, city noises, trees, etc., Ruby is likely to be able to offer a focus in this environment and Shirly can start shaping those behaviors outside.

The next steps are even further than that. Shirly makes a new environmental goal and makes a list of all the new things in that environment. She takes Ruby in the car and sits in those types of places with her window slightly cracked, letting Ruby process. She introduces her to some of the noises and smells this way. She works with Ruby at home around some of the objects (Ex: chairs, plants, tables, hanging clothes) that Ruby might encounter. When Ruby is ready, she takes her to this new location very briefly and then walks her out and lets her process her experience from a secluded area.

The point is that this VERY slow and lengthy process is how we do right to our dog's mental state, trust in us, relationship with us, and set them up for the most success. When you have prospected working dogs, this is so necessary.

Some people prefer to walk their puppies in strollers to desensitize to environments that we want to make seem "normal". In many cases, this is okay. It is so important that we take a very close look at what our puppies are telling us in these situations though. Are they stress panting, stress yawning, or fidgeting from discomfort? We have to make these outings short and remind ourselves that this is for desensitization only. We shouldn't ask anything of our puppies in environments that they have not worked up to and we must ALWAYS meet their needs. It is also important to note that we can not start a dog that has already developed any fear or reactivity towards triggers in the same way we can start desensitizing a young puppy who has not gone through any fear phase whatsoever.

When working and training with your puppy or adult dog, we need to set them up for success in the best way possible so that entering new environments is a breeze. We can challenge our dogs but by embracing how we train this way, the dog has a smaller probability of error. We want the dog to experience something positive as MANY times as possible. The more times that they experience a specific thing, place, person, or dog, as safe and positive, the less likely it will ever become an issue for the dog. This mindset keeps our dogs safe and happy. It also increases the likelihood that they will work well with you.

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