Generalization is the ability to apply a concept to a situation different from the one it was initially learned in. Humans do this quite easily and quite naturally. For example, when you learned to write, you didnt have to relearn the process when you went from school to home, changed from notebook paper to poster board, or switched from pencils to ballpoint pens. Generalization is big picture.
Discrimination, by contrast, is the ability to focus on the smaller picture the details. Humans generalize more easily than they discriminate. Police offices, for example, spend hours and hours honing their observation skills. Dogs, however, are master discriminators. Sit doesnt necessarily mean put your bum on the ground to a dog. With improper generalization, sit may mean Put your bum on the ground directly in front of mom when she is in the kitchen standing next to counter wearing a bait bag and holding a clicker and cookie. Now thats discrimination!
Generalization is considerably more challenging for dogs. Except for aversives, which they generalize easily (though frequently inappropriately) as an instinctive survival mechanism, dogs must work as hard to learn to generalize as humans must work to discriminate.
When dog trainers speak of generalizing a behavior, their goal is to teach the dog that a cue and its associated behavior apply in more than one environment. This process includes more than practicing the behavior in more than one location, however. Lets review the example I gave above: With improper generalization, sit may mean Put your bum on the ground directly in front of mom when she is in the kitchen standing next to counter wearing a bait bag and holding a clicker and cookie. Theres a lot more than location to generalize there.
The key to generalization is variability. Unless you want your naturally-discriminating dog to conclude that something in the environment is a necessary element of a behavior, you must make sure that nothing but the true cues (also called discriminative stimuli!) remain consistent during training.
Though it sounds like a lot to remember, the good news is that generalization is habitual. Once your dog has generalized a few behaviors, he will begin to generalize others very, very quickly.
Copyright of all posts is the property of the original author. Please obtain permission from the original author before copying, quoting, or forwarding.
List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com