“Proofing,” as we’ve talked about before means practicing a behaviour in different environments and situations until your dog generalises the desired behaviour and can do it anywhere, even with distractions.
Why do you have to proof a behaviour you have trained your dog to perform?
Most dogs can easily learn and perform behaviours at home or in places that are familiar to them. When we take them out into the rest of the world however, there are novel sights, sounds and smells which make is super hard for the dog to pay attention to you and listen to what you’re asking them to do. Dogs have to learn to pay attention in the midst of distractions – one good reason to train in a group class!
Additionally, when learning a behaviour, dogs take note of their entire environment and associate the behaviour with that environment. When the environment changes, they are no longer sure of the behaviour that’s being asked of them and need to be shown that the same behaviours apply everywhere by practicing in many different places.
You and your position also form a part of the environment and a very important and sometimes overlooked part of proofing is ‘handler proofing’ which simply means helping your dog understand that your position relative to your dog can vary but that this does not affect the meaning of the cue either.
Common exercises we practice in classes are the handler adopting unusual positions such as sitting or lying down when asking their dog to sit, down, stay or leave it.
I also find it really valuable to proof your Sit-Stay in situations where you are not paying any attention to the dog building up to being absent from the area completely. I have seen many quite highly trained dogs (including my own!) break position the instant the handler was distracted and looked away. Behaving when someone is watching you is one thing, how about when no one is watching?! J
You can ask your dog to Sit-Stay while you do any number of household chores. Build up the time your dog can sit-stay with minimal distractions to 5 minutes and then start adding in other distractions like your dogs favourite toys or training items that you use a lot.
You can practice in doorways which can be sensitive areas and with the lead attached or not. You can ask your dog to Stay while you sweep the patio, while you prepare food, while you go to the loo. There are many, many opportunities throughout the day to fit in that 5 Minute Stay and it will do wonders for your dog’s impulse control!