Environment Training - Introducing puppy to the big wide world
This is where the fun begins. All the training you have been doing inside the home now has to be transferred out into the big world outside.
This is where I start to break things down into easily manageable chunks and back chain the training the puppy has already learnt inside the home to fit in outside.
So to make it easier and less frustrating for you, we are going to just quickly run through some necessary training techniques and we will also add at the end of the course a small “PDF” booklet that will deal with a tremendously important aspect of training “Rewards and reinforcement”. This you will be able to print, laminate and store away in a training folder to help you revert back to it when necessary.
We are going to start this lesson talking about “Learning Plateau’s”, although these shouldn’t really kick in to play at this stage in training, puppies are all different and some mature and absorb training a lot quicker than other and can therefore peak in training earlier.
Below is a small video that goes through The Learning Curve.
Introducing your Puppy or Young Dog to New Environments
So, you have practiced your games and skills at home and your puppy or young dog is now ready to enjoy learning experiences out and about.
Fab! I will be sharing my tips to set your puppy or young dog up for success when it comes to training in new environments so that you achieve your training goals. Then you and your puppy or young dog can have an awesome time together!
Generalising behaviours thoroughly is a critical aspect of training, and one that is easily overlooked by even the most experienced trainers.
From the perspective of learning, generalisation can be described as an extension of a behaviour from a familiar situation to a less familiar situation. To give an exaggerated example, a dog may understand the cue “Sit” and do so when it is requested of him at home.
Given that he has had lots of practice and has been rewarded for sitting at home in the past, this is a familiar situation.
If this same dog were asked to sit outdoors and had never been asked to do so in this environment before – there is a good chance he would not understand what is expected of him. The reason for this is that his behaviour of sitting has not been generalised to the unfamiliar outdoor situation appropriately.
So here is how we plan for success.
- Pick suitable environments
It goes without saying that when we take our dogs outside, we open up a huge world of choices! It is like Aladdin’s cave!
So, my first tip is to think sensibly about which environments you want to first introduce your puppy or young dog to.
Where do I start? Well, I love a quiet car park! car parks are fab places for those initial new environment experiences and the great thing is, there is lots of them! Yes, to us, they are a car park, but to your puppy or young dog each and every one is a
brand-new environment. So why do I love car parks?
- The surface is less distracting than say a grassy area
- It is very unlikely that you will run in to an off-lead dog while you are practicing your skills
- People tend to leave you alone! They have come to the parking lot to park their car and carry on with their day.
Of course, think safety. Use a lead or long line and park somewhere out of the way so that you do not have to worry about cars driving passed.
Once you have explored car parks, when considering other environments, think about the following:
- How popular are they to other users? Will this be too
challenging for your puppy or young dog right now?
- What is the environment used for? For example, I would not suggest that you practice your skills in a busy off lead dog park or beach as these places can be a tad too high energy and sometimes volatile.
- What is the surface like? Is your puppy or young dog ready to work on grass, for example?
Ultimately, the key thing is to think about the environments you initially go to carefully and to always have in mind that you want to set your puppy or young dog up for success.
This is another of my favourite environment choices once I have used the car park. On the playing field I personally find that I able to get more from my dog, due to the socialisation and early training in the Car Park. This is due to two main factors.
- The puppy is familiar with the presence of other people and
- We have also work in the back and front garden, so we have the association of being able to work on a grass surface.
I will always set up for success, so I divide the field in my mind into four section and each day will work in one corner, normally the quietest of the four.
When doing introduction to environment work there is so much that can go wrong in a short space of time.
The key is how we react to the situation and behaviour/s being displayed. If we become instantly dull and start nagging or pleading, we are never going to get anything but failure – shut down, so we have to automatically do the opposite and become the silly clown, fully of enthusiasm and excitement, not being afraid to reward for the slightest interaction from the dog.
In the above diagram what we do is split the field into 4 sections and then start in one corner one day and the following day we will work in the next corner, we continue with this until we have worked the puppy in all four corners, then should everything be going to plan we will then move the training into the middle of the field. Now this is the interesting part as we know we will have to go back to the beginning and be prepared to start again as the puppy is totally out in the open and a little bit of insecurity may well step in.
Remember the Four D’s: (Lesson 12)
These will keep you in line with being able to succeed in your environment training.
Remember that with young dogs, especially puppies they are going to want to explore every new environment you take them into, this is a normal behaviour.
- Smelling all the new smells,
- Feeling all the new textures underneath their feet,
- Hearing all the different noises around them, the bird songs, the Tyre noise of vehicles,
- The distraction of other animals in the vicinity.
Two other common detractors that determines the level of success when taking your training to a new environment is the dog’s natural level of self-arousal and the relationship you have with your dog.
- Management of Choices
As mentioned previously, when we introduce our puppy or young dog to new spaces and places they are faced with an abundance of choices. I strongly believe that management is part of the training journey. This helps our puppies and young dogs with their choice making. In order to do that, we have to manipulate our surroundings by doing things like:
- Using a long line. I tend to use a long line and I step on it, rather than holding on to a lead. From the get-go, my goal is that my puppy or young dog is offering what I want without the crutch of the lead.
Leads can become a tool that is too relied upon if we are not careful! Hands free is the way to go!
Picking an environment that offers easy surfaces and then more challenging surfaces. This means you can start your session on the easy surface, say concrete for example, and once you have got the training juices flowing you can move onto the more challenging surface, grass for example.
Initially, helping your puppy or young dog with their choice making aids their skills to grow complex choice-making. It is key to restrict their choice-making early on, as well as reinforcing those good choices. It is more likely that they will pick those choices readily when presented with multiple choices as a history of reinforcement has taken place. You have made those good choices a super awesome deal for your puppy or young dog!
- Conversation Starters
I love games that create easy wins for puppies and young dogs. This is especially
important when we have taken them to a brand-new environment. Getting it right leads to them growing in confidence and the desire to work and learns increases! When I initially introduce a puppy or young dog to a new environment, I will always start with a conversation starter.
One of my favourites is 2 paws on an object that I bring with me. As this game is something, we have practiced at home, it brings an element of familiarity to an unfamiliar environment. This is because I am using an object that the puppy or young dog has seen before.
Once I have played this, I will then lead the training session into another game… maybe something that requires a little more thought and focus. Then I will end the session with the easy win, the conversation starter! You leave the session happy as you have achieved your goal. And your puppy or young dog leaves the session happy as you have made the learning experience fun and achievable.
- Work = Play = Work Framework
- Once you are on the road to success with taking and training your puppy or young dog to new environments and you are both reaping the rewards of gradually
increasing the complexity, it is time to give your puppy a little bit of down time within your training session.
- Allow them to go off task and have a good sniff or a little run around, then bring them back to the training session and play another game or build the skill you are working on, and then allow them to go and have a little run around and a sniff again.
- Giving permission for your puppy or young dog to simply be a dog is really important, it is creates that all important work = play = work framework.
- As we all know, a little give and take is important in life and this philosophy should be the same for our puppies and young dogs too. Getting that balance is key.
- Training should be a fun time, not a long time
- This last time does not just apply to the context of introducing your puppy or young dog to new environments, it should be considered for all training sessions, but especially for when we are introducing new places and spaces.
- Do not push the session. Even if your puppy or young dog is only at that peak performance for 1-2 minutes (or less) end the session
there. Do not fall into the trap of ‘just one more go’. End the session way before your puppy or young dog has had enough.
- The length of your training session will depend on your puppy or young dog, so be observant. How long is too long? If you struggle to stop (I get it if you are having fun, why would you want to!) set a timer.
- It is best that both you and your puppy or young dog leave the session on a high and with a sense of achievement.
Remember: When you go outside to start training your puppy, they are naturally going to want to have a good sniff around. We never discourage a puppy from doing this and will happily allow them to partake in this activity purely to let them gain information from around them.
Whilst they are sniffing we take the opportunity to get ready to start and get prepared for training mode.
Usually after a few moments they will suddenly look back at you, this is again where we capture the behaviour with excited praised and offer a game with their toy in order to establish a handler/dog bond again and then put them into working mode.