A Dog’s Eye View: Learning algebra at a Broncos game
August 1, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Learning algebra was difficult for me. I really had to focus in order to grasp what was for me an abstract concept. When we're teaching new dog owners how to teach skills to their pets, we caution them to practice at home in their living rooms first. For dogs as well as humans, it's difficult to learn new skills in a new or distracting environment. I often ask, "Can you imagine trying to learn algebra while attending a Broncos game?"
We also teach that once the new skill has been successfully practiced by dog and owner in a quiet and familiar environment, then it's time to begin taking those skills on the road. Even this phase of learning needs some special handling. If we make the assumption that the dog knows a skill once he has successfully performed a behavior in your living room, we might be disappointed when the same skill can't be performed in other places.
Using new skills in a different environment can present dog and owner with the problem of understanding whether "sit" means the same thing to the dog in the noisy kitchen as it did in the living room. Additionally, are new skills as a trainer presented to the dog the same way when in a new environment as in the living room?
Here's a spot that requires some courage, understanding and self-assessment on the owner's part. Being proud and loving dog owners, we're tempted to show off our dog's intelligence and push him further than the level of his ability in a new and exciting environment.
Interestingly, when we're learning how to train a dog, it's tempting to put the onus on the dog for the proper execution of any behavior. In reality, we're the other half of the equation.
Often when a student says his or her dog won't do a certain behavior that he’s been taught, I'll ask the student to show me what the cue (the hand motion, word and human body language that prompts the dog to perform the behavior) looks like and in what environment it was given. When the owner thinks about this and presents the original cue, the dog does the behavior instantly. It's often the owner who has garbled the cue or chosen a distracting environment.
I think it's important to remember that the process of learning has many parts. Be good to yourself and your dog. Try to be mindful of your surroundings, patient and forgiving. Learning can be stressful. If you go to a Broncos game, just have fun. You can study later.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience.