Generalising behaviours. Why is it that you can teach your dog to sit in the kitchen or living room, but put a harness and leash on them and step outside and suddenly they have amnesia? Dogs don’t generalise very well outside of single-event learning experiences that are extreme (traumatic or fantastic), so the generalisation process is much more difficult for them.Now add on the emotional side of what we’re dealing with… Yikes!Let’s talk about learning. There are five stages that all learners go through:1. Acquisition. This is where the dog has learned the mechanics of the skill, or behaviour – what works to get the reward – and can perform it, albeit unreliably. It is not yet perfectly accurate or timely, and in the face of distractions, don’t count on it happening! That’s too difficult at this stage.2. Fluency. This is where speed is not yet on the learner’s side. The target skill can be performed accurately, however, the learner is not responding quickly with the same accuracy. In this stage, we have to focus on practicing the skill and increasing the speed and latency in which it is performed. Again, performing with difficult distractions may prove to be challenging for now.3. Generalisation. This is where the learner can perform the skill with accuracy and fluency but may make occasional errors – confusing it with other skills that are similar. At this stage, we must focus on practicing the skill in various environments, under various conditions, and loosening up our speed and latency criteria until we have built that fluency in higher-distraction environments.4. Adaptation. This is where the learner is performing the skill with accuracy and fluency in many situations or settings. They may struggle with adapting the skill to fit new or stressful situations. We must remember that dogs are not robots and they work through all of these stages as we do (if taught well).5. Maintenance. This is where we must practice this skill in various environments and continue reinforcing the behaviour in order to maintain the reliability of performance. We often feel that reinforcing behaviours at this stage and beyond is unnecessary, however we must remember Thorndike’s Law of Effect“Behaviour that is reinforced is more likely to get repeated.” If we stop getting a paycheque from our employer, would we continue to go to work?Do we keep feeding each behaviour forever??That brings us to schedules of reinforcement – how frequently to reinforce behaviours at the maintenance level. We’ll talk about that soon, but in the meantime, think about the skills that you have taught your dog recently. Choose the ones that you find most important and useful, and map them out here. Where does each lie among these stages? What can you do to bring them all to the Maintenance stage?