Testing our skills…

While I may not shop there frequently, I sure spend a lot of time at my local Petsmart.  It is a favorite place to take the dogs to work in a real-life, high distraction environment.  I go there so frequently that most of the managers and employees know me.  Sometimes I get some… unfriendly… looks because I spend hours there and don’t buy anything.  But there are few other places as perfect for testing our training skills.

One of the things I love about working in petstores is the ultra concentrated distractions.  In this one space there are people, dogs, carts, cats, birds, rodents, music, toys, food/treats at nose level, potty smells, vet clinic smells, and groomer smells… I mean this place has it all and it’s rolled up in a nice real-world environment.  There are surprises around every corner, potential for unexpected run-ins , and there is always the real-world walk from the car to the store.

Petstores are really excellent training resources for people that I think go so under-used.  There are really not too many other places that provide the real-world environment coupled with the crazy level of distractions involved.  Want to really test your heelwork, see if you can keep your pups focus on you and not on all the food/toys/treats at nose level.  Proofing a down-stay…how about a down-stay in the middle of the store with people/carts/dogs walking around?  Although my dogs’ walks are generally for them and they can have all 6ft of their leash, I use trips to the pet store as awesome training exercises.

There are opportunities all around to practice training in real-world environments and with real-world distractions.  When we go to doggie events (carnivals, park events, etc), I always do a first “round” practicing obedience or tricks before I take time to look at vendors.  Events like this provide more real world, high distraction practice for behavior–if your dog can work through these environments … he can probably work anywhere!

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people is that their dogs have low level of compliance outside of the training school and outside of the home.  I think many people set their dogs up to have low-level of compliance.  They take their dogs to the store, to the park, to events and have no requirement for behavior.  Owners have inadvertently taught their dogs to ignore cues when out and about…. that’s a hard thing to swallow for most owners, but it’s the truth.  People want to simply run and and run out of a store to get what they need and allow the dog to pull, sniff, roam, and wander all around.   What does that teach the dog?  It sets a precedent that they are not only allowed but supposed to be wild in this environment (since it’s heavily reinforced by having fun!).

Petstores are really great resources to practice all sorts of behaviors and reinforce that even outside the house and training classroom that it’s beneficial for the dog to listen to your cues.  Remember to start small and reinforce heavily at first.

2 Comments
  1. I took Tibby to a Petsmart for the first time last week. I would like to take her more often, but the store is 1 1/2 hour drive. How do you get your dog to take treats or calm down enough to do training? She took one treat and then she was too excited to pay attention. I guess go more often would make Petsmart not as exciting – anything else?

  2. I made the mistake of not minding when Cohen was given treats by strangers when out and about — at parks, at our local stores, etc. Now she’s very difficult to keep focused in these environments. It seems like regardless of the value of treats I’m using nothing is quite as exciting as the mystery milkbone behind the counter.

    As of now I’m cutting off her being treated by strangers (or at least trying to — when we were at the beach yesterday two separate strangers gave her food when she came to say hello… ugh). Working at a PetSmart is a great idea. Right now Cohen is normally very distracted by the smells and noise while in there, but if I work on her focus with distractions a bit more I expect I’ll see improvement.

    I admit I’ve been lazy with training since it’s gotten so cold. The cold weather makes working at a large pet store even more appealing. Thanks.

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