Learning to Learn
Phase two – Take it on the road
In this phase, you will “take it on the road” so the dog learns that each cue means the same thing as it does at home, even in new, distracting situations, and on different surfaces.
Choose locations where you can be far away from distractions, but can gradually move closer.
Keep the dog on a regular six-foot leash, and stand in a boring place where he can’t reinforce himself, at first. You want him to figure out that *you* are the most exciting thing in his environment.
Be patient. At the first location, your dog may be more interested in sniffing the ground than in working… initially. Let him sniff around a bit, then ask for a down (don’t ask a beagle to offer anything besides sniffing, if your first chosen spot is in grass… start him out on cement, get some repetitions under his belt, then work toward grass… if you visit a new location each evening, you’ll find that the time it takes for him to focus on you decreases very quickly, with practice – and, there’s nothing wrong in letting him have a 5-minute sniff-fest in return for 5 minutes of exercises!
Repeat the sequences above, in new surroundings. Try to move to a new location each day, so that your dog has the opportunity to generalize to lots of new places – remember that every change in environment changes the learning environment, and this means that a change in rooms, houses, neighborhoods – even the person on the end of his leash – will change things for your dog enough that he may become confused! If this happens, simply lower your criteria, and reinforce him at a lower level. Keep the rate of reinforcement high, so that his interest is maintained.
Remember that the end of the course Does Not Mean that your dog knows what he's doing... this is just a very basic course, designed to give you and your dog a taste of how learning happens!
HAVE FUN!! When you and your dog have mastered these cues, it's time to learn some tricks!
Brenda Rushman, CCBC