My two dogs seem to do fairly well in training thus far. However, outside of their training sessions, they are unwilling to perform commands that they seem to have mastered perfectly well. Now that I know they'll obey within the context of a training session, how do I get them to obey when I'm not actively trying to train them?
What makes a "formal training session" formal and any situation outside of that setting not? If you know the answer to that question, you can blur the edge between formal and not formal and make your dogs obey in (almost) any situation.
- The location: If you only train your dogs in a certain location, like a puppy school or inside your home, you simply need to start "formal" training in different places. Don't swap one training location for another, but mix things up and train in various locations to teach your dogs that they should obey no matter where they are. As you already noticed, this doesn't work immediately. Be as patient as you were in your past trainings and give them time to adapt, but don't let them be sloppy. They know their commands, they should execute them correctly. It just may take them a while to understand that they should execute them right here right now.
- The rewards: Almost all dogs expect some kind of reward for obeying a command, be it a tasty treat or a short play with their favorite toy. If you don't reward your dogs outside a formal training session, they don't have any incentive to obey you. Imagine your boss asking you if you could work a shift this saturday without pay, just to make him/her happy... Even in a formal setting, you can negatively influence trained behavior if you stop rewarding obedience. Please be aware that petting your dog is not a suitable reward for obedience training because it distracts more than it rewards in those settings. You need to take a suitable reward (treats or toy) with you if you want your dogs to obey you in different locations.
- Distractions: Most formal training scenarios are build in a way that minimizes distractions like other dogs playing or foreign scents. It takes a while of training in different places with such distractions to teach the dog to obey despite the distractions.
- Your body language: Some people have the tendency to adopt a rigid body language during "formal" training. Some people use a hand gesture in combination with a spoken command. All that can make it harder for a dog to understand you outside a formal training session, if your posture is relaxed or you only say the command without the corresponding gesture. Try keeping your body language and intonation the same as in a formal session.
- Anything else you notice during your formal training sessions. Take a moment to analyze your own behavior and surroundings and try spotting details that differ to an informal training situation. Try removing that detail so a formal training matches an informal training as much as possible.