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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
    Rudy Smith
    May 18, 2017

    I love your wisdom

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    Wendy Barned
    May 19, 2017

    Great blog and great reminder that dogs don’t generalize when it comes to training in different environments.

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    C. B. Lawson
    June 6, 2017

    Very insightful blog. As for the terrier, I don’t know wether or not you are making progress with her outside projects. But to anyone in a similar situation, perhaps this Comment will be of assistance.
    We all know that the energetic terrier was bred for outside activity. Perhaps you can learn specifically of what it is that distracts her, and in turn use these initial stumbling blocks as stepping stones. Taking whatever it is of nature that would demand her attention, using it to captivate her focus once again. Also, letting her get, whatever it is out of her system before beginning the training session might help to. Which might take a great deal of patience for naturally inquisitive and energetic dogs like the terrier. Sort of like how even the most rewarding training sessions can get old and worn out if it persists for too long. The dog would naturally want switch things up a bit, and focus on something new. You began with one outside area, let the dog exhaust her mini exploration journey, and then begin the session you came outside for in the first place. Quite often the dog will be calmer, more attentive and ready to earn. Especially, if new and strange rewards are introduced. One last thing, always maintain that assertive demeanor. Heck, turn it up a notch if need be. A dog has no business blowing off it’s owner, and a responsible owner has no business accepting any signs of such behaviour. There are a countless number of things that can go horribly wrong in any environment, let alone an outside one. These things DO happen, and dogs ARE guilty of blowing people off. But diligence in gaining your dogs undivided obedience is imperative. Trust me you’d wish you gave it every ounce of sharpness, if forbid, the unthinkable does take place. Good luck!

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    Celeste Lovett
    August 11, 2017

    Now, I’m not a professional dog trainer by any means, however I have had the pleasure of owning, among other breeds, 5 terriers since 1982. First 3 Jack Russels, and in 2015 we got 2 rat terriers, a mini, Daisy, and a standard, Scooter. In my experience with their nature, they never “get enough” or get bored with chasing. I found that channeling that energy and focus into activities such as terrier trials, BarnHunt (Scooter is currently working Master level), tracking (Scooter also really shines during hunting season and has found numerous deer in very thick cover that might never have been recovered), maybe even lure coursing or agility, are excellent activities for them. Also I have not seen one of those little guys that didn’t go bonkers over a squeaky toy, and I use them for rewards. They really love them and I occasionally allow them to “kill” one. We also live in the country and I know how it’s sometimes a challenge to get and keep their attention in certain environmental situations, so I have learned to carry a small squeaky toy in my pocket. It will draw them away from nearly anything and has even effected recalls in one or two situations in which I just could not complete with the environment! These are some super fun and game little dogs that will get you learning about different activities. Our first Jack Russel was used for fox hunting and Jack Russel trials, and it opened up a whole new world for me, having always had German Shepherds. Really getting a lot out of the Leerburg website and YouTube videos! Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    November 14, 2017

    As the owner of 2 pet border terriers it is very heartening for me to hear that someone as experienced in dog training as yourself, has had to work so hard for small increments in outdoor environments!!
    Border terriers were meant to be more independent in order to make their own decisions to navigate under earth, I believe.
    Go Stella!!!!!!

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