My Dog Behaves Better “At School”

“My dog is doing great here, but she doesn’t act this way at home.” “I wish my dog listened this well at home!” “Well, OF COURSE she’s doing it. She’s at school!” I hear varieties of this trend on a weekly basis. I’d like to share three reasons why dogs tend to behave better at school than they do at home, and how to fix it.

Winston showing off the results of his owners’ consistency

1. You are paying more attention to the dog during training class than you are at home. What I’m suggesting is that the dog isn’t different at training class, the human is… and the dog is merely following her lead. We live busy lives and while you’re at home it’s nearly impossible to focus on your dog. 

How to Fix This: Carve out time to focus on your dog at home. Ten minutes here or there without the distraction of kids, television, or work can be a huge benefit. Don’t give a command if you don’t have time to follow it through.

2. Your dog has established bad habits at home that he doesn’t have at school. Dogs learn in pictures. So it’s a great benefit that when they enter school, we start teaching right away. Their “naughty habits” don’t already exist at school. However, when you practice at home, your dog DOES remember those bad habits happening at home. This is the hardest to stop when the behaviors are self rewarding. Every time the dog grabs food off the counter, the yummy food is the reward. Every time the dog rushes the fence to bark at the neighbor’s dog, the adrenaline rush is her reward.

How to Fix This: To stop self rewarding behaviors, we need to interrupt them EVERY TIME. It takes about 30 days for a dog to set a new habit. That means interrupting the naughty behavior EVERY TIME for 30 days. We need to make the naughty behaviors less rewarding and make the new behaviors more rewarding.

3. Your expectations are different. This can be due to lack of consistency between different members of the house, or sometimes the human who brings the dog to class is not reinforcing the same expectation at home that they are at school. Dogs who are confused about their owners’ expectations are likely to get frustrated and stop trying to “win.” I know that consistency is often preached by dog trainers around the country, and this is part of the reason why: Consistency increases the dog’s understanding. And if the dog doesn’t understand, he will stop trying.

How to Fix This: Make sure that all of the humans at home are on the same page and have the same expectations. Make sure that YOU are holding the same expectations at home that you are at school. (For example, if sit has a built-in stay at school… sit must also have a built in stay at home.)

If your dog listens better at school than he does at home, it’s important to know that you’re not alone! But do not despair, because you CAN remedy these issues. Consistency is key and practice makes permanent.

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