Help! My Dog Behaves in Obedience Class, But Not at Home. What Can I Do?

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Q: My dog performs well when he's with his training instructor in class, but I can't get him to listen to me at home. What should I do?

A: Dogs often do well in a classroom setting because they're consistently interacting with their owners — plus they get multiple hours of practice working on certain behaviors, along with predictable rewards for performing the tasks. At home, the interaction between a dog and his owner is often less practiced or rewarding.  

Why Home Training Can Be Unpredictable

Whether it's interruptions from kids or dishes that need to be washed, the home environment is full of distractions for both dogs and owners. This is why many people sign up for a training class in the first place — it's simply too difficult to really focus at home.

And although canines may learn to perform given behaviors in the classroom, owners often don't invest enough time to follow up with the training at home, so their dogs may not comprehend what's being asked of them outside the classroom.  

Most training classes revolve around consistent rewards, such as a treat or a toy for staying on command. At home, people are less likely to reward pets when they perform a behavior correctly. Dogs also learn to respond to people who wear treat bags or hold goodies during a training class — and they may tune out owners who don't have treat bags or hands full of snacks.    

How to Increase Your Chances of Success at Home

To help your dog better transition from the classroom environment to your home, it’s important to routinely practice class work at your house, so that your dog quickly comprehends that training behaviors are also rewarded in the home setting.

Fit training sessions into your daily schedule by doing them for a couple of minutes at a time, like when you're heating up food in the microwave or there's a commercial on the TV. You should also set up reward stations throughout your home, such as treat jars in the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom and even the bathroom.

When you ask your dog for a certain behavior, mix up the rewards by offering praise, pets, play and the occasional treat. This will help your pet to understand that a treat bag doesn’t need to be worn in order to get a reward. If you also use nonfood rewards, it will keep your dog motivated to listen to you for other reasons, instead of just focusing on getting a treat.  

And be sure to pay attention to your dog when he's exhibiting calm, relaxed behavior — not just when he's doing something that you don’t like. By rewarding quiet behavior, you increase the chances that he'll continue to repeat such good behavior in the future.  

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