ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Understanding Dog Generalization and Discrimination

Updated on March 20, 2013
Dogs discriminate and generalize behaviors
Dogs discriminate and generalize behaviors | Source

Dog Generalization

In one of my latest hubs, I discussed about dog generalization, today, I am tackling mostly dog discrimination which is the opposite of generalization. We need though to see them both together so we can differentiate them and acknowledge their differences. In other words, to 'discriminate " them. For a refresher on generalization, read my hub on "Understanding the process of dog generalization."

To recap shortly, generalization is the phenomenon where Scruffy starts responding to all situations similar to the one in which he has been conditioned. To put it briefly, you see generalization at play when your dog is reactive towards the mailman, and then he begins being reactive to all men in uniforms, and then to all men in general. A great example of generalization comes from the studies conducted by John B. Watson and Rosalie Raynor on Little Albert. Basically, in this study, Albert was shown a rat and then right afterwards, a loud sound was made by hitting a metal pipe with a hammer. The sound terrified poor Little Albert which caused him to cry. After several pairings of the rat with the loud noise, Albert ended up crying just at the sight of the rat. Afterwards, he started generalizing his fear of rats and started crying at the sight of anything furry including a fur coat or a Santa Claus beard.

Generalization isn't always a bad thing. When you train your dog to sit in your living room and then in your yard, your dog is generalizing the behavior in different contexts. When your puppy learns to potty indoors on the newspaper and then outdoors on the grass, he is generalizing again. Note though that dogs are not great in generalizing new learned behaviors, but are quite fast in generalizing stimuli that may be linked to adaptation and survival.

Dog Discrimination

On the other end of the spectrum is discrimination. What is dog discrimination? For starters, it's not the discrimination you may think of, such as the unjust discrimination against pitbulls and rottweilers. In this case, in layman terms, we are talking about the ability of recognizing and understanding the difference between one thing and another. For example, you may find it appropriate to tell a joke at the bar, but you would never do so in a church. You know that the red light means stop and the green light means go. In a similar fashion, your house trained dog may potty outside but may never dream of eliminating in your home on your favorite carpet (hopefully!)

How does discrimination happen? In the case of potty training a puppy, most likely you have reinforced going outside to potty with praise and rewards, while you may have scolded (punished) your pup for soiling outdoors. (Which you shouldn't really do, as scolding will only inhibit the signs your pup needs to go and backfire cause you'll trigger him to secretly pee behind the sofa!) The best way to potty train a pup is through force-free puppy potty training methods) .

Another example is a dog who listens more to one person than another. In this case, the dog may have learned to discriminate between one spouse and the other. You can almost hear the dog remark "My dad, really means it when he calls me, but with my mom it's a whole different story; she doesn't really mind if I come or not."

Dog Generalization versus Dog Discrimination: An Experiment for Your Dog at Home

As seen, dog generalization and dog discrimination are opposites. While generalization is the ability to see a relationship among things, dog discrimination is the ability to differentiate things. Would you like to test your dog now to tell the difference between the two? Here is an interesting test.

1) Play the You Tube video below. It has the noise of a door bell. If it does sound like your doorbell, and your dog tends to react to your real doorbell, call your dog and let him listen to it.

2) Watch your dog's reaction.

Did your dog bark? If so, most likely the doorbell makes a sound similar to your normal doorbell. In this case, your dog has generalized the sound because he has found some similarities, in other words, a relationship between the two sounds.

Did your dog not bark? If so, most likely, he has discriminated the sounds. He knows for a fact that the real doorbell has a unique sound and is quite unique and different. He has therefore found a difference and no relationship between the two sounds.

As much as generalization and discrimination appear to be opposites, they sort of interplay with each other. If your dog barks at doorbell sounds, he does generalize as he barks at anything that sounds like a door bell, but he also discriminates, since he likely doesn't bark at any other sounds.

Test your Dog with This Door bell Sound

Share your results!

Did your dog bark at the door bell sound?

See results
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words : The A+ Dog Training Program for Good Manners and Happy Obedience by Michele Welton (2010-05-03)
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words : The A+ Dog Training Program for Good Manners and Happy Obedience by Michele Welton (2010-05-03)

Follow the Vocabulary & Respect Training program, and your dog will become the attentive, responsive, well-behaved companion you've always wanted. The 100 Words program is more than a few basic obedience commands.


Tips to Help your dog generalize and discriminate

Tips for Generalization

  • If you puppy has been using indoor puppy pads or newspaper, help your puppy generalize potty training from indoors to outdoors by placing familiar pads and newspaper closer to the door and then finally outdoors.
  • To help your dog generalize going potty anywhere, train your dog to go potty on command. This has helped my dogs tremendously as we moved frequently from place to place and changed potty areas over and over
  • Train your dog to sit in your home, but then help him generalize by asking him to sit in the yard, then on walks, and then in more distracting areas such as the dog park.
  • Don't let your dog generalize his fear, Fear generalizes quickly as it's adaptive and linked to survival. If you nip a behavioral problem in the bud, it will have less chances for generalizing.

Tips for Discrimination

  • If you want your puppy to discriminate between going potty in the home and going outside, make sure you consistently praise when your puppy goes potty outside and nothing special happens when he goes indoors. Soon, he'll learn that only going potty outsides is fun.
  • Dogs are not good in generalizing, but they're also not that great in discriminating, unless you put some effort in helping him. If you never allow your dog on the coach, and then just one day you decide it's OK, your dog won't discriminate that just that day it's OK and the next time it's not, so he'll likely try to come on the coach again in the future.
  • Poor discrimination is a reason why you should never train a dog to guard your home without a professional who knows what he is doing. It's easy for a dog to bark at an intruder one day and the next, attack the emergency medical unit coming to save your life.
  • Nose work is a fun way to train a dog to perform scent discrimination. In this sport, dogs must learn to identify a specific scent. In search and rescue, dogs must discriminate a specific scents from other salient scents.
  • Did you know that dogs can be taught to discriminate different objects such as toys? Many have successfully trained dogs to pick a specific type of toy from others based on shape, size or color. See the video below for a stunning example of this!

A seen, understanding the phenomenon of generalization and discrimination is important. A good grip on these dynamics will help you overcome some common obstacles in training and behavior modification.

References: Gary Wilkes Click and Treat

Alexadry© All Rights reserved, do not copy.

Amazing dog differentiates one toy from another!

Dogs are quick to generalize fear, but not that quick in generalizing learned behaviors.
Dogs are quick to generalize fear, but not that quick in generalizing learned behaviors. | Source


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      You don't know little and I don't know that much. I am simply working my way towards a career as a certified dog behavior consultant so I am learning on the go and sharing what I learn from my textbooks.Thanks for stopping by!

    • Monis Mas profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting! And fascinating. I feel silly how little I know about my dog. Thank you for educating my through your fantastic hubs!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Roscoe is such a cute fellow! My Rotties don't get my shoes, but they always sleep on my soft slippers. While it's annoying to wake them up to get them back, they' surely warm them up nicely in the winter :)

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      6 years ago from Alabama

      True, that is an impressive video.

      Roscoe knows the word shoe. He will grab one and run off to the back door. If he drops it or just doesn't get a shoe, I'll tell him to get the shoe and he gets it. Normally he drops it by the door, but every once in a while I have to go out a hunt a shoe down. It's his game and I picked up on it. He taught me before I taught him. LOL.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      The dog in the video is impressive. My dogs can discriminate between a bone and a ball, but I never tested to see how far they can go. I'm sure Wetnosedogs that yes, we are really underestimating them.

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      6 years ago from Alabama

      Dogs are definitely smarter than what most humans give them credit for.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)