The 4 Principles of Proofing
When it comes to training your dog to obey commands, “proofing a behavior” refers to the practice of training them to perform the same behavior in different environments, with various distractions. For example, once your dog knows how to sit in your living room, proofing means teaching them to sit in your yard or at the park, where there are other dogs around. In this way, proofing trains your dog to generalize the command, so that they learn to perform it in all sorts of different places and settings.
In this short post, learn more about what proofing is and what it entails, and discover the four essential principles you’ll need to instill in your dog to ensure their behaviors are “proofed” for any environment.
How Proofing Works
Just like fireproofing, waterproofing, or, even bulletproofing, dog proofing involves making your dog impervious to their environment, so they perform the same command without hesitation every time. This means teaching your dog to not only associate the command with the behavior, but training them to perform it flawlessly under varying conditions. To do this effectively—and progressively—expert dog trainers will often recommend that you proof a behavior in stages, based on the following four core principles of proofing.
The Four Core Principles of Proofing
Distance involves teaching your dog that proximity is irrelevant. Whether your dog is 10 feet or 100 feet away from you when you give them a command, they should perform it without hesitation each time.
Keep in mind: “Distance” tends to trip many dog owners up, since they can’t understand why their dog won’t perform the same command when instructed at different lengths. Our advice is to remember that dogs are not humans, and that while some dogs are good at generalizing commands, many are not, and simply need more time for the training to sink in.
Duration involves teaching your dog to obey the command until they’re released. Whether it’s 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or an hour—it doesn’t matter—your dog should hold the command as long as they’re instructed to.
Generally, you can start working on duration once your dog can obey a command regardless of distance. Start by increasing the amount of time you “hold” the command, by adding a few more seconds before you offer them a reward for performing the command. If they progress, slowly add more time. If they release before you give the reward, go back to the last point where they were successful.
As the name implies, distraction means teaching your dog to both perform and hold a command, regardless of any distractions in the immediate environment. Whether a ball bounces by, a squirrel runs off, a doorbell rings, food is presented, or another dog (or person) enters the area, they should perform and maintain the behavior each time.
When you start proofing a behavior, it’s important to start in a quiet, controlled environment, such as a familiar place in your home. Then you can move to different locations (such as different rooms) as they progress, gradually increasing the number of distractions. This will help your dog learn progressively, without being overwhelmed.
Location is the last piece of the proofing puzzle: teaching your dog to perform the same behavior in multiple environments and settings. This means training them to perform the same command in different places--such as in different rooms of a home--regardless of the stimuli present in those places.
For example, if you train your dog to lie down on a bed when you say “place,” they should go lie down in the same place regardless of where they are in your home. Whether instructed to “place” in the kitchen, bedroom, or dining room, they should perform the action without hesitation, regardless of whatever is going on in each room, let alone the distractions they encounter on their way there.
Why Proofing Matters
In many ways, proofing is one of the most essential training techniques you can teach your dog, as it forms the foundation for further training. After all, a dog that obeys every command you give them—regardless of distance, duration, distraction, or location—is well on their way realizing their full potential.
Realize Your Dog’s Potential With Total Dog!
At Total Dog!, we’ve helped hundreds of Austin and San Antonio dog owners get the most out of their dogs—and would love to help you too! We can help train your dog to obey all sorts of commands—regardless of distance, duration, distraction, or location—so that they perform the same actions without hesitation, no matter where they go.
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