Last week I did a few novel interior searches with Loki. Leaving familiar areas to do searches helps our dogs generalize the skills that they are learning. Generalizing skills applies to nosework as well as basic behaviours such as SIT, DOWN, recalls, and so on. Unlike humans our dogs learn in context. The best example of what this means for our dogs and how we can understand the difference between how dogs learn and how people learn came from an article written by Melissa Alexander called “Generalization”
Generalization is the ability to apply a concept to a situation different from the one it was initially learned in. Humans do this quite easily and quite naturally. For example, when you learned to write, you didn’t have to relearn the process when you went from school to home, changed from notebook paper to poster board, or switched from pencils to ballpoint pens. Generalization is “big picture.”
Discrimination, by contrast, is the ability to focus on the smaller picture – the details. Humans generalize more easily than they discriminate.
Dogs are master discriminators. “Sit” doesn’t necessarily mean “put your bum on the ground” to a dog. Sit may mean “Put your bum on the ground directly in front of mom when she is in the kitchen standing next to counter wearing a bait bag and holding a clicker and cookie.” Now that’s discrimination!
Generalization is considerably more challenging for dogs (except for negative experiences, which they generalize easily, though often inappropriately, as an instinctive survival mechanism). Dogs must work as hard to learn to generalize as humans must work to discriminate.
So the more novel environments that you can explore with your dog and practice what you are learning, the easier it will be for your dog to understand that the skills they are learning apply anywhere.
Our biggest novel environment search came on Sunday at the Kootenay Scent Hounds trial. I am happy to say that Loki earned us another nosework ribbon!! When training, I know where the hide is and Loki’s job is to find the hide. In a trial, neither of us know where the hide is and once Loki finds the hide, my job is to recognize that she found it. I missed her initial indication on our first search so the search took a little longer but we both nailed it on our second search!! Way to go Loki!
Thanks for reading and happy training.