Proofing behaviours and gaining reliability of the behaviours we teach, in all situations, is important. You may have the best trained dog in the world at a training class, or a first class obedience dog in your living room at home, but if you get your dog out into the street or go for a walk in the park and your pup gives you a blank look when you cover the basics you’ve likely been over 1000 times, we can ascertain we haven’t proofed the behaviours.
So, how can we proof behaviours?
We can set training criteria in our training sessions. Essentially what this means is, we set criteria in each training session we do, for what we want to achieve. We don’t just look at the ability to actually perform a behaviour, we can look at other things when setting criteria, too. For example, how quickly a behaviour is being performed (latency), you ask for a ‘sit’ and 5 minutes later you finally get that sit! Or, the duration of a behaviour too.
Distractions are absolutely everywhere when dog training, they can be anything and everything, often things we may not even notice or give thought to. It can make training sessions more stressful and frustrating if we don’t gradually increase the distraction levels, at a slow pace. It is not always other people, or other animals, which can cause your dog to be less than interested in what you’re teaching. Things like surfaces can play a part in distraction levels. For example, if your pup has been taught in a hall on a shiny floor, he may sliiiiide into his ‘downs’ quite nicely. However, put him on grass and he may struggle to understand what we’re asking of him. We need to ‘proof’ these behaviours before they are reliable in all situations and environments. If we move too quickly with behaviours, our pups will fail, we then have nothing to reinforce and what we were doing becomes rather pointless! To us, and our dogs.
Think about the 3 D’s!!! Distraction, Duration, Distance.
Distractions – as I said, these are everywhere. From sights to sounds to scents, there are interesting things everywhere for your pup to be distracted by. Distractions need to be considered and gradually built up for a proofed behaviour, for example think about the weather? Wind? Rain? All of these can affect your dogs ability to reliably perform behaviours.
Duration – for example, your pup will go ‘down’ quite well, you will mark with a ‘yes’ and your pup leaps up, you then reward. What have we done? We have ignored the behaviour between the marker (your ‘yes’) and the reinforcer, which is a hugely important time! To build duration of that ‘down’, we need to reinforce when he is IN that down. Think also about heel work, the duration is essential, we want our pups to walk next to us for extended periods of time before being released to run, this needs to be built up and proofed.
Distance – we all train our pups right next to us, don’t we? Your pup will very quickly believe he needs to be right next to you to gain reinforcement. It’s natural, it’s been reinforcing before so will be again in your pups mind. However, we want our pup to perform behaviours however far away they may be. An emergency ‘stop’ for example, or a ‘send to bed’, or a ‘come’, all these cues are given at a distance. So we need to proof for this also.
So, in short, proofing of behaviours is extremely important. Whether you want to have the most fantastically well trained competition level obedience dog, or merely want your dog to ‘sit’ and ‘come’ when called, any behaviours you teach need to be proofed, to gain reliability. If your pup gives you a blank look or seems utterly disinterested or confused when you ask for a ‘sit’ in the park, have a think, did you teach the behaviour thoroughly enough in the first place, and was it generalised, and was it proofed? If the answer is ‘possibly not’, give your dog a break and set yourself some training criteria for your training sessions.
For more information about anything discussed, just get in touch!