You and Fido have been going to dog training classes, working privately with a trainer, or just working hard in your home. Both you and your dog are proud of the new tricks and behaviors you’ve learned, right? Maybe not. The final step in training your dog is proofing. So what is it? Proofing is practicing the trick or behavior in different situations with increasing levels of distraction.
Think Like a Dog
To understand why you need to “proof” you need to think more like a dog. People generalize well; dogs do not. Here is an example of “dog think.” You’ve taught your dog to sit in your kitchen with no one else around. You think he “gets it.” But then you’re out on a walk around town, you say sit, and nothing happens. See – you’ve taught your dog to sit in the kitchen and to him, the word sit means “sit in the kitchen.”
It takes dogs a little bit longer to generalize and understand that “sit” means everywhere regardless of what’s going on. In “dog think” that’s way different than sitting in a quiet kitchen.
So to help your dog “get it” in a more generalized way, you need to proof the training, which means training them in different places with more distractions. But, raise the ante slowly.
Continue to work in the kitchen but have some music on. Then have a friend or family member walk into the kitchen while you are training. When your dog has that down pat, move to another room, then in the yard, then have other people tell your buddy to sit. Do it standing next to your dog and at the end of a LONG leash. Take them to a fully fenced area and see if they will do it off leash too.
Finally, try it in a city or at the dog park. If your dog hits a wall and doesn’t respond correctly, back up a few steps to reinforce the behavior. Keep training sessions short and reward correct responses with a happy voice and treats. Patience is the most important virtue when working with animals (and people too).
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember practice makes perfect, so even if he’s got it down today, don’t assume it will last forever. Find places to train them every day, just for a minute here and a minute there. When you’re out on a walk, at the dog park, or before they get their food ask them to sit or lie down.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s fun for both of you, and this way your dog will have the behavior down pat when they really need it. Even better, the more you do this, the quicker your dog begins to generalize!