Strange New Things Part 2 – Helping Your Dog Learn to Love New Things

The last time we talked I told you about introducing Mercy to the new agility equipment we purchased over the holidays.  I shared how important it is to help her form a positive association with all this “new stuff” on her porch and deck by using classical conditioning.  I’m pleased to report the tunnel is no longer a scary tube that leads to a bad place.  Instead it is now a fun new object that provides a tasty reward at the other end.

Mission accomplished, right?

Not so fast.  The tunnel is great fun on the porch, but when we move it to the deck, the rules of the game are changed. It’s still the same tunnel, though now it’s presented in a different context.  While I don’t have to start from scratch helping her learn to love it again, I do have to condition her to accept the new location.

Take a look at these two pictures, the first one is the tunnel in the original training location on the back porch.  The other is the same tunnel out on the deck.







While it may look the same to us our dogs see it entirely differently.

They haven’t generalized the learned behavior to a new location – they only know it’s safe where they first learned it.  The same goes for other tricks like sit, down, stay and recall.

It’s not that the dog forgot what they were supposed to do.  It’s that we changed the rules and it’s our job now to teach them the learned behavior in other locations that are different and oftentimes filled with additional distractions.

Because Mercy already had a good experience with the tunnel on the porch, it wasn’t long before she was racing through it on the deck and ready to receive her reward at the other end.

Now we’re working on introducing the weave poles. Stay tuned…..I’ll share our progress soon!

Jim Ross is currently a Cold Nose College Apprentice and is also enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy of Animal Training and Behavior. He’s a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, is trained in pet first aid and CPR and carries the Pet-Tech First Aid/Canine CPR caregiver designation. Jim is also a volunteer dog trainer working with the detainees and their shelter dogs within the Rescued Program at the Colwell Probation Detention Center in Blairsville, Ga. 

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is the author of The Original Rocket Recall™: Teach Your Dog to Come. She’s a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. The company’s trainers enjoy providing virtual behavior consulting and training solutions to clients around the globe and offers coaching, mentoring and behavior case support for pet professionals.


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