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Dog acts differently at home than in class

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POSTED June 30, 2013 7:09 p.m.

DEAR DIDI: I have a 5 year old Standard Poodle. We have taken many AKC classes and he always excels in a class environment. He has titles and graduates with honors. His behavior at home, however, is not exemplary. We are not sure how this is possible or what to do about it.  —Stumped in Manteca

DEAR STUMPED:    Although your problem may seem impossible, it is actually very common!  In my opinion, it is frequently caused by the very nature of group training classes.  Canines are situational learners. Basically, if you only practice “Sits” in the kitchen the dog will frequently only sit well in the kitchen. That particular room is then associated with training and listening. Group classes that are conducted weekly in the same location, whether that be an indoor classroom or an outdoor field, quickly become the “kitchen” where your dog behaves best.  The lessons learned, frequently, don’t get translated to everyday life in the home.

When the human part of the training team is in a formal dog training classroom environment, they are focused and paying attention.  Once the class is over and life reinvades our minds we are not as focused on our dogs. We don’t notice what they are doing as quickly, if at all.  Instead, we are worried about bills, kids’ schedules, dishes, and all sorts of other issues. Our dogs know perfectly well whether or not we are paying attention.  Just like our children, they tend to pick the moments mom is not paying attention to do something they shouldn’t.

Poodles are one of the smartest breeds of canine. Although this may seem really cool to have the smartest pooch on the block it is more often a problem. The smart ones get into things, second guess commands, notice minor training errors and inconsistencies and are, in general, a little more difficult to train.  It is like having a gifted human child but never letting them read above kindergarten level. They will get bored. Bored children look for things to occupy themselves. What they choose to occupy themselves with is rarely what we want them to do!

A good group training class does have its advantages.  Our dogs need to learn to listen and focus on us despite the distraction of other dogs nearby. The cost of group lessons is usually much less than private lessons and your dog is getting out of the house and working on being socialized to new and different things.

A qualified trainer or animal behaviorist will be able consult with you and determine where the breakdown in training has occurred. A behavior modification plan can then be implemented or it might just take a new training plan that will help bring the things your dog already knows into everyday usefulness in the home. A good program will have quantifiable behavioral results and homework goals. This helps the human practice and know what they are working towards. Don’t worry about how old your dog is. There is no age limit to learning!

There is a main point we must always remember during the training of any animal. It is never, ever the dog’s fault!  We have just failed to communicate properly with our canine. If we, as humans, are willing to make some changes and learn new methods, the dogs are always willing to try.  They don’t speak English. We cannot sit them down and explain why they need to walk in our direction when we yell “Come”. They don’t understand when you lecture them loudly about chewing up the slippers. True ‘training’ is really just communicating with our dogs what behaviors will result in pleasant things (treats, play time, ear rubs) and what behaviors may get them sent to their rooms (ie crate).

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