The Proof is in the Training
Your dog CAN be reliable...any time, anywhere and under any conditions!
“But my dog does it at home!” That’s a statement heard frequently in training classes the first time an owner tries to get her dog to sit for the group. Now there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Fido really does sit when asked at home. The problem is that he hasn’t had the opportunity to learn how to do what is asked of him any time, anywhere and under any condition.
In order for Fido to become an obedience star, he needs to be proofed. By definition, proofing a dog’s behavior means to prove that the dog is reliable. Trainers commonly deem a dog to be reliable when he or she can perform the requested behavior, in any setting, 80% of the time. To achieve this level of competence, it is important to build upon small successes.
Start by training Fido to sit in the living room. If he can learn to sit 80 out of 100 times, then he is now reliable in THAT environment. Now it is time to take the show on the road … but remember, like all fledgling performers, Fido can’t hit the stage on Broadway in his first shot out of the gate. He must practice his skills Off-Broadway first! After reliability is assured in the living room, start practicing “sit” in your kitchen. Make sure you occasionally move back to the living room during the time you are working the kitchen scene. You don’t want Fido to forget that he is still capable of, and expected to, sit in the living room even though you are now training in the kitchen. Never move on to a new area until your dog is 80% reliable in the area in which you are currently practicing. Continue with the training by moving on to all the other rooms in the house and then your garage. Finally, start practicing with the garage door open. Once Fido is reliable in all these locations, he is ready for the great outdoors!
Moving outside is a huge step for canine-kind because there is instant exposure to a wide variety of distractions from the kids yelling next door to the squirrel scurrying around in the trees. Begin working the outdoor scene in the backyard where there are likely to be fewer distractions. You may need to work in the backyard for some time before taking the show out front for all the public to see. Most front yard settings add the additional distractions of cars, people, skateboarders, bicyclists and more.
Throughout this process, Fido will be developing the skill to “generalize” which means that he is learning that “sit” means “sit” whether Junior says it while lounging on the couch in the living room or dad says it standing at the front door in his best suit.
Once Fido is reliable everywhere on your property, it’s time to travel. Go to the vet, the pet store, canine events, kids’ baseball games, the groomer’s and anywhere else your dog is welcome. Remember to reward! Keep the training fun. If you (and your piece of liver) are more interesting to Fido than everything else going on around him, then you have taken a huge step in helping Fido succeed in his training. Now that’s what a partnership is all about!
Continue proofing by using a variety of distractions but always remember to increase the temptation level slowly. Don’t put the cat on the floor in the same room with a dog that always gives chase and expect a "stay" just because you said so. You have to build up to that level of distraction.
The “real” world is a place where anything can happen. Use your imagination to create the unusual throughout all your training exercises because this will help your dog become comfortable with the unexpected. Tell your dog to “stay” and then run around clapping your hands. Bounce a ball. Toss shoes past your dog. Turn off the lights and work in the dark. Wear funny hats and costumes. Fido will learn that all the theatrics are nothing but a new trick…and he’ll learn not to fall for it. After all, if he does what you want, he knows he’ll get a piece of liver!
It may seem like a lot of work. But like the old adage goes, “Practice makes perfect.” The more time you spend together working on the routine, the easier it will be for Fido to understand that "sit" happens each and every time you ask!
Now, Fido is ready for Broadway!