The Law of Specificity

The Law of Specificity.
Actually I don’t think there is a law of Specificty…at least not when it comes to dogs, but I run to into it all the time.
Point in case: Currently my husband and I have the following routine – he walks the dogs in the morning, I in the evening. But the other day I had some time in the morning before I had to leave and since it was Sunday morning I decided to let my hubby sleep in and take the dogs. I quickly dressed in my work clothes, called the dogs and grabbed their leashes. Then as I opened the door, I thought “It is 6:00 am on a Sunday morning…no one is going to be on the road, so I think I’ll just let them run off leash till the end of our street.” I took my leashes with me but did not attach them and prompted them: “Let’s go!”
They both looked at me like I was daft. I prompted, called, patted my leg, and made kissy sounds. FINALLY they started moving….if one may call it that: Both of them creeped down the driveway like there was some great scary monster at the end. They kept looking at me with uncertain faces. “Come on, I promise you won’t fly off the planet.” They said they weren’t sure. I prompted some more, we continued to move at the amazing speed to one inch a year. What was intended to be a fun outing turned into a battle.
“Ok then you wretches, let’s go!” I slapped the leashes back on just to get some control over my slow pokes and voila` instant change! We were happy, we were peppy, we were walking, we were sniffing.
We took our walk-somewhat delayed by the upfront drama. On the way back when we got to our street I let them off leash as usual and lo and behold: No slinking, no worrying just happy walking. And that is when it was confirmed to me: the law of specificity had struck again!
If the dogs could have spoken, they would have said: what was that all about?! You sometimes walk us in the morning, but NEVER in your work clothes! And then to top it off, you NEVER walk us off leash on the beginning of the walk! Granted, you let us go off leash to the mailbox, but that is when you wear flip flops and shorts! This was just all messed up! We might have gotten injured or killed; flying off the planet was a real possibility without our safety harnesses on!
Now most of you will respond: This is not a problem for my dog, more likely I’ll let him off leash he will be off and running…. but my point is this:
Dogs have a really hard time generalizing. What seems like minor changes in environment or routine can really throw them off.
We all know that dogs are experts on watching every move we make. They know they are going for a walk long before you even pick up the leash:
2 cups of coffee plus sneakers plus no makeup equals one imminent walk, while 2 cups of coffee, leather shoes and makeup equals no walk, unless she picking up the bag with the water bowl and the poopie bags…then definitely an outing in the car! And no matter how sneaky you try to be, no dog can be found when it is time to take bath.
That same power of observation comes back to bite us, when we change parameters. You have trained your puppy to do his business on newspaper or a wee wee pad, and now you are asking her to go in the grass….you might run into problems. Your dog has learned to do his business alone outside in the backyard, and now you are walking up and down the potty area at his first hotel visit and he just won’t go, because he is on leash….
You have obedience trained your dog in a specific training facility and now you are taking your show on the road to the park and your dog is looking at you like it had heard “sit” for the very first time in his life….
This inability to generalize can work for you or against you. If you want to teach your dog a specific behavior you must practice it often and in many different areas. If you want to keep the dog off the furniture, but don’t mind I he sleeps on the old couch in the den, he will readily accept “his place” if you spend some time teaching him.
Bottom line is this: If you find your dog behaving weird and obstinate, you might want to look at the situation and ask yourself if you threw too many new variables at him.
Some dogs are more sensitive minor changes than others, so just because your former dog “Precious” easily blazed through new environments and circumstances that does not mean that “Buster” comes with the same set of coping skills. Accept him for what he is and give him some time to get his bearings.