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Can your dog discriminate

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discrimination dog training

Yesterday I wrote about generalisation, today we’re talking about discrimination.

This is another essential component to a well trained dog.

In scent work, we need to train a dog to pick out a particular scent amongst a multitude of items, or other scents.

For Rio, that means picking out the scent of cloves when strong scents of coffee and tooth paste are present. (And to make things complicated its part of the proofing process too).

Dogs have an amazing ability to discriminate.

They learn to only sit, down, or recall only when the owner uses that specific cue.

Or get nervous on the way to the vets.

A cue (e.g ‘sit’) becomes a predictor for what is about to be reinforced, or punished in the case of the vets, or anything else unpleasant.

My very first dog Monty seemed to know the difference between me getting up to go out, and getting up to go out with him!

Cues like ‘down’ won’t predict that a heel position will be reinforced.

So dogs learn to only perform the behaviour that is associated with the cue in order to be reinforced.

Some dogs discriminate too well

And can learn that they don’t sit without a red bucket being present.

Okay, that’s an extreme example…. It has happened though.

Dogs can learn to only come when the owner is crouched down.

Or to only sit when a hand gesture is used. That’s why its important to fade hand gestures early.

Have a meltdown id something in the garden is different (a new piece of garden furniture for example)

Your dog may only like women.

Or, like my friends dog, only take issue with Cocker Spaniels!

Discrimination and generalisation go hand in hand.

In order to have a well trained dog, you really need to understand and teach both.

A dog should be able to discriminate that sit means sit, and not other words which sound similar (ship, shoe, sing)

But also be able to generalise that that behaviour can take place anywhere. The beach, the park, your friends kitchen.

That is how you get your dog to listen to you anywhere


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