Do your dog’s ears switch off as soon as you leave the house?
There’s a big difference between a dog that will listen and respond to commands at home, and a dog that will respond in ANY place and EVERY situation. The difference is in whether or not you proof your commands.
What is proofing?
Proofing is when you take the commands you have taught your pup at home, and practise them in a variety of different and more distracting environments to ensure they work while out and about in the real world (and not only when you’re the only interesting thing around). For example, you might teach Sit at home, then practise it in different places like at the beach or dog park!
Proofing can be a very difficult phase – it’s easy for your pup to pay attention when there’s nothing interesting around, but much harder when there are lots of sounds, smells and other people and dogs to check out.
A lack of proofing is the most common training issue I see. People do so well up to a particular point with their dogs, then they don’t go just that last mile to ensure their dog actually listens everywhere.
How to proof your commands
- First teach a new command in a low distraction environment and get it working really well there before testing it anywhere else.
- Then very slowly and gradually move to more distracting places. Don’t go straight from the living room to a busy dog park! First try outside, then outside in a new area but with no other dogs around, then a quiet area with not much going on, then a quiet beach then perhaps a busier dog park.
- Always use your clicker and treats when proofing in a new place. You want to be able to incentivise your dog to listen while you’re in the proofing phase.
- Make sure your pup is hungry when you move to a new, more distracting area to practise in. Skip breakfast and make up for the lost food amount with your training treats while you’re out and about.
- Use high value treats such as cooked chicken, cheese or dog roll so that your pup is more likely to be motivated to work in order to get those treats.
- Get your pup in a calm learning state before you move out to distracting places. Start by doing some training work at home and practising some calming commands such as Sit and Zen Down with your clicker and food rewards so that your pup is calm and focused on you.
- Work through a hierarchy of tools in each new zone: start on a short lead with more control, then move to a retractable or long lead so you can give your pup a bit more freedom but still maintain control, then move to letting your dog drag the long lead so they feel a sense of freedom but you retain the ability to step on the end of the lead to regain control if needed, then finally move to off-lead.
You don’t want to rely on having your tools and treats with you ALL the time, but while you’re still perfecting a command (until you’re getting the response you want 99% of the time) it’s well worth carrying a clicker and food rewards.
Once you’re ready, you can then fade the clicker so that you rely on your spoken commands alone. See this article to learn how to do that!