Practice. Practicing at home is a must. You can’t get by without practice. Everyone knows this, but it’s one of the most overlooked solutions.. When I say practice at home, I mean regularly. As in: every day. There’s no getting past it – if you don’t practice with your dog, the behavior will always be better at class than it is at home.
Randomize. Don’t be predictable with your practice sessions at home. Mix up the timing – if you usually practice right after you get home from work, practice before you go to work in the morning. If you normally practice for 15 minutes, ask your dog for just a couple of behaviors, then go take your dog for a walk, play with him, or just take a break. In other words, shake up the normal routine. This is one of the few places in dog training where less predictability is actually preferred.
Change the reward. Instead of getting the treats out before you practice with your dog, ask your dog to sit (or whatever behavior you’d like to practice) then reward him with a quick walk outside. No clicker, no food treat, just straight cause and effect [because he sat, he gets to go outside]. Don’t stop there! Make a list of all the things you do for or with your dog that he loves. Your list might include belly rubs, couch time, walks, feeding meals, praise, affection, and play. Now, ask your dog to do a simple behavior and reward him with one of these “real life rewards.” Your dog will suddenly realize that those behaviors he’s learning in class are relevant in his regular world, too!
Teach. Occasionally, your dog will know a behavior like nobody’s business in class, but gives you the blank stare when you ask for it at home. If this is familiar to you, you may need to re-teach the behavior from the beginning in your home environment. This is easier than it sounds.
Sprinkle. I think training is most effective at home when it’s unexpected and it leads to fantastic things. Therefore, I like to sprinkle training into my dog’s day as if that’s the standard way of doing business in our house. I like to think of it as the way you can teach your dog to say “please.” Your dog wants you to throw the ball? Ok, have him do something simple for you (target, sit, eye contact, whatever). When he does, throw the ball! Before you clip the leash on to go for a walk, ask your dog to do something. When he does, clip the leash on and head out the door!
Now you know why your dog is having a hard time making the transition from dog training class to home and have the tools to improve your dog’s behavior. If you start today, you’ll have a dog that listens better in no time.