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Performance can be based upon conceptual or contextual understanding(pretty heavy stuff… might want to finish this first…). Unfortunately, if the handler is not trying to deliver the conceptual understanding to the dog, then odds are that the performance of the behavior will be based upon contextual understanding – the situation or external stimuli are what define and trigger the behavior. It should be no surprise that behaviors that are processed and understood by the situation or environment are hard to generalize to a new situation or environment. Obviously… right?
When the dog is performing based upon conceptual understanding, then the dog is looking inward recalling the reward history and specific, well identified, criteria of behaviors and concepts that have been learned in the past. Concepts can be assembled into behaviors and they are able to be assembled in many situations. As long as you don’t stretch the criteria or push the distraction too far, you can get performance in a wide variety of situations rather quickly, and foster a conceptual understanding of skills.
If your dog can recall the criteria and reward history as concepts (ie – touch, bite, hold, carry, out, give, leave it – things I know) instead of context (“go get it bring it back” – what I do) they can leverage those concepts to create behaviors in many situations instead of being dependent upon getting stuck trying to read the situation. Well how does that work? How does a handler communicate conceptual understanding to the dog and avoid performance based on the context of the situation? It’s simple, but not easy…