A while back I had a dog named Roxie for board & train. I was teaching her how to use the doggie door that will give her access to our back area to go eliminate, sun herself, and just take a walk of some sort. We try the doggie door by having my dogs coming in and out for a treat.
Roxy is going in and out of the doggie door as she hears me cheer her and slip her a treat for her efforts. Sometimes as I use the door, I ask her to try her doggie door. Once she has learned how to use it no more in and out requests…. That is the beauty of doggie doors. I personally love doggie doors and encourage my own clients to consider them. It means freedom for both parties and it gives the dogs the ability to have more control over where they spent their hours. Of course, one has to make sure that the dog will remain safe outside if they choose to go out the doggie door when people are away.
There is one exception to the use of the doggie door in our household. The dogs get one last chance to go outside before going to bed and then the doggie door remains closed for the remainder of the night. That privilege was lost when Deuce decided that he needed to go outside and match the coyotes in their howling. Now, we get “Animal Planet” inside the home …. Howwwwwwwwwwwwl… howwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwl.
One morning I noticed both Rio and Deuce are inside, but where is Roxie? I call her once and I see her outside through the glass door. I point towards the doggie door reminding her that she is a big girl now and she can use the doggy door whenever she wants to come in, not only out.
I walk towards the doggie door and stand there. No Roxie. So the question is: Has Roxie learned to generalize how to use the doggie door?
Remember, generalization is the third of four stages of learning per Marylin Fender Ph.D. and published in Front and Finish (see the previous blog for more on this please). At this stage, the dog has learned that the behavior at hand is relevant under different circumstances. In the case of the doggie door, it means that Roxie understands that she can go out and in. And that doing both requires the same steps – just executed from a different location (inside and outside). There is, of course, more than just the ability of the dog to learn to generalize, which in case I have not made myself clear it is not an automatic process for them.
Have you ever met someone in a given context and then when meeting again somewhere else – out of the usual context – and not being able to remember the person’s name or even where (in what context) you had met them?
That is exactly what happens to dogs all the time as they struggle to generalize the learning they have recently acquired. I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I cannot pinpoint where I met someone I become obsessed with wanting to put the puzzle together. This realization has given me more empathy for dogs when they are learning followed by the knowledge that I must take the time to teach dogs the behaviors in a manner that they can generalize it where I want them to use it. This is accomplished by having the dog practice the behavior in either different locations (the living room, bathroom, front yard, dog park, etc.) or in whatever other modalities we need them to perform. Jumping on the back of a car, for example, might be different from the perspective of some dogs to jumping in the back seats of the car.
I pay closer attention to why Roxie appears to come inside when my dogs come in first, but she stumbles when they are already inside to go through the doggie door. My conclusion is that she has not really solidified what it entails to lift both doggie-door flaps – this is the kind of doggie-door with two flaps, which helps with insulation.
When she is following behind Deuce or Rio she is cleverly letting them do the flipping of the plastic flap for her as she hurries thru the doggy door. As we spent more time practicing, I also noticed that my encouragement on the opposite side of the doggie door helps her gather the oomph to push the rubber insert all on her own. It will not be long before Roxie discovers that learning to use a doggie door has some very cool benefits as she decides if she wants to bask in the sun, take a pee or come in for a nap.