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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

Environment Influences Behavior

For a large majority of the dog trainers I spend time with this statement is a given. The environment we are in will greatly influence the behavior of our dogs and our behavior as well.  Sometimes this is a positive influence but often it’s the opposite of what is expected.

I’d like for you to think about some scenarios.  How do you behave when you are in church with your grandmother?  How do you behave when you are in a bar with your friends?  Think about being  called into your supervisor’s office.  I’m fairly certain that the environment and the people surrounding you influence your behavior quite a bit.

When we are spending time with our dogs the places we take them will greatly change the behaviors we see from them.  We often train new behaviors in a somewhat sterile environment inside our home or quiet space. Successful trainers understand that adding a new environment that includes distractions will likely show gaps in the dog’s understanding of behaviors that were easy in a low to no distraction location.  Sometimes new trainers or even experienced trainers with a new dog may fail to recognize that the dog isn’t “blowing you off” or “giving you the finger”, he or she is simply overwhelmed by the environment. 

How does your dog behave in your kitchen?  What type of reactions will your dog have to the distractions at a park?  At an agility or IPO trial?   In city traffic?  At the vet’s office? 

How do you behave in these environments?  Are you nervous? Distracted?  Excited?

They way you behave in new environments also influences your dog.  A fearful dog can gain confidence from your calmness but if you are nervous it can have a negative effect on an already unconfident dog.

I think many dog trainers select a certain type of dog for our personal dogs. Until recently I always chose working or herding breeds like the Malinois. It makes sense to pick a dog that is so motivated that it is easy to work them through training challenges in the environment.  The issue lies in the large number of dogs that are not extremely motivated for primary reinforcers like food and toys or dogs that have fear or other confidence issues.  I know that I have been spoiled in the past.  I have had dogs that could focus and engage no matter what the distraction or environment.  These dogs are priceless and make training easy.  Dogs like this also make it easy to forget that not all dogs are this way.

6 years ago I got my first terrier.  She’s probably the most intelligent dog I’ve owned and a real problem solver.  She’s a breeze to train until you get out of a sterile training environment. Once you are outside and the delicious smell of critters is on the breeze she can appear to be a completely untrained dog.  I’ve had to work extremely hard for the smallest increments of progress with this dog in that particular environment. I’ve had other trainers tell me she’s blowing me off and I suppose this may be true but the core of the issue is that I’m not as valuable or interesting to her as her new environment. I just have to work harder on our relationship and reward system. This dog has made me look at training from a different point of view and evaluate my training environments from the dog’s side.  I don’t believe I was very good at doing that before.

This is my first blog post and was written as a reminder to myself more than anything.  Train the dog in front of you at that moment and try not to compare dogs to each other because you will not only shortchange the dog but your education as a trainer.  Look at things from the dog’s point of view when changing environments.


  1. Avatar
    Bren Manicke
    January 19, 2018

    Thank you so much. My Mini Golden Doodle, age 3 and me (Owner), has been having a mexican stand off for the last three days outside at a corner of an intersection with a golf club on one corner. Many vehicles, golf carts, putters, people getting their golf carts for the day; all the clubhouse activities including large parking lot with restaurant. I took off my shoe to remove a rock and thought – great training opportunity, so I threw my shoe 3 feet away and said; Penny, hand, shoe, command and clicked my finger and pointed to my shoe. This is a constant request inside and outside our Home and She performs the task well. At the corner, She blow me off – until I just read your article. Wow, I’m constantly learning – She is taken with Her surrounding Environment. She knows who feeds Her, She knows Her training task, She listens and when food is the reward, She pays very close attention. She does not like angry force and will be stubborn as a Donkey if I use anger, anxious, voice/body language. She works best with firm confident clear simply commands with praise. Plus she loves a sneaky toy, what a great surprise treat in this new, exciting environment.
    Balls and sneaky toys are given only for play time and I decide when that is, which happens many times throughout everyday, but they are not left laying around 24/7. Thank You. Thank You

    This blog just help my Canines Owner understand Her better.

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