Why You Should Train Your Dog in Several Different Settings

Your dog learns all his lessons from his environment. When you reward him for the right actions, you are modifying his environment to reinforce good behaviour. Positive training relies only on reward, without using punishment or threats to eliminate bad behaviour. This is a highly effective training method because dogs are conditioned quickly by their environmental stimuli and soon begin to respond in just the way you want, and then even reward becomes unnecessary.

But a dog’s environment is not just made up of you, the sound of your voice (giving a command), clicks (if you are using the clicker training method) and the treat. Training a dog positively and effectively requires changes in the setting too – otherwise your dog may not be able to carry his learned responses from one situation to the next. Training your dog in a variety of settings is an important aspect of dog training, and is referred to as “cross-contextualization”.

The need for cross-contextualization in dog training

Cross-contextualization simply means re-educating your dog in several contexts to exhibit the same behaviour in response to a specific command. When you train your dog in your living room, the setting of the living room is part of his learning, and unless it is changed regularly, can become part of his conditioning. So your dog might sit or lie down there every time you tell it to, but if you take it to the park, it won’t know to exhibit the same behaviour.

Dogs also need time to orient themselves to each environment. Training your dog in the different situations which will become part of his life – the house, the yard, the dog park, even the vet’s office – is an effective way to make it understand the link between the command and the behaviour without getting disoriented or distracted by a new situation. Safety commands like Come, Down and Leave it are especially important to teach in several settings so that if there is a critical situation, your dog will obey you every time.

Cross-contextualization also keeps training challenging and fun for your dog. Routine and regularity are important, but monotony can make dogs less motivated to learn.

But don’t begin cross-contextualizing too quickly. Begin teaching commands in a safe area that is familiar to the dog; this will help him focus on the training. Too much change in environment right at the beginning of his learning can also confuse him. Once he begins picking up the command and showing signs of being trained, mix it up and take him to the park.

Re-educating your dog does not require nearly as much time as teaching him something the first time. In every subsequent new situation, your dog will be quicker to exhibit the right behaviour.

Cross-contextualization is as important for you as for your dog. Remembering that it is an important part of training him will keep you from becoming impatient when his in-house training doesn’t show results outside. You’ll know that he needs to be re-oriented and will be both patient and constructive in your response and as you and your dog experience various situations together and have a good time teaching and learning positively, the bond between you two will become stronger.

Image credit: bradjreynolds

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