Winter dog training activity - proof behaviors

Looking for an indoor activity to work on with your dog when the weather prohibits extended training and exercise? Try proofing behaviors that you have taught your dog.

Proofing behaviors is a fun activity that you can do inside with your dog and work on fine-tuning the behaviors that he already knows. Proofing involves making sure your dog REALLY understands the meaning of the cues that you give him and doesn't just guess the behavior that you are looking for. A really well trained dog with highly-proofed behaviors can "Sit" when asked when the trainer is sitting, lying down, with her back turned towards her dog, etc. The dog also knows not to sit when the trainer says "sip" or "hit" or any word that sounds like "sit" but isn't actually "sit".

Want to see if your dog's behaviors are proofed? Try this. Walk up to your dog and say, "blah, blah, blah". If your dog has any training under his belt there is a good chance that he will probably sit or do another behavior that he has worked on a lot. If you present a nonsensical word and your dog does a behavior, that means that he is just guessing what the word means. Not a terrible thing, but it means that there is room for more training.

What better time to do training then during the cold winter months!

Proofing Behaviors

There are many ways to proof behaviors. Here are some suggestions for you to work on.

Word Variations

This strategy teaches your dog to do behaviors on cue, but not to do the cue for another word. This is referred to as doing behaviors on cue and "extinguished" off cue.

Let's start with "sit".

  1. Say, "sit" to your dog, if he sits, reward him
  2. Say another word such as "ship"
  3. If he sits, either ignore him, say,"Eh! Eh!" or walk away from him
  4. Say, "sit" again and reward if he sits
  5. Alternate between the two until your dog does not sit when he hears "ship"
  6. When this happens, give him low-level verbal praise
  7. Continue adding more words one at a time such as "stem", "slit", "spit", etc. and alternating between the new word and "sit"
  8. Eventually your dog should only sit with the correct cue and do nothing for the other words
  9. Then do the same thing with other cues such as down, come, etc.

Posture Variations

It is very common for dogs to associate a specific body posture exhibited by their trainer. For instance, most people teach "sit" by standing directly in front of their dog. If you have done this, there is a good chance your dog associates your body position and posture as part of the "sit" cue. But, what happens if you turn your back and say, "sit"? Would your dog still sit? What if you were lying on the couch in a very different position and said the "sit" cue?

If you change your body position and your dog does not perform the behavior, do not say the cue again, but instead "help" your dog with a hand signal or other "helper" that you have established previously.

Here is an example showing how to teach your dog to do a behavior while you are lying on the couch.

  1. You might want to warm your dog up first by working on the behavior in your normal training position
  2. Once your dog is warmed up, lie on the couch and ask for the behavior
  3. If your dog doesn't do the behavior, don't say it again, but instead stand up from the couch and "help" your dog dog the behavior by using a hand signal or food lure
  4. Continue working like this until your dog does the behavior without the secondary help

Variations to Work On

Here are some suggestions of other changes that you can do to proof behaviors. Remember, ask only once and then help your dog do the behavior. Eventually he will make the connection and will understand to do the behavior because he heard the cue and ignore other movement or your body position.

  1. Turn your back
  2. Turn to the side
  3. Look at your dog, but cover your mouth when you say the cue
  4. Say the cue while you do jumping jacks
  5. Lie on the floor
  6. Do situps
  7. Call from another room and have someone with a speaker phone hold the phone near your dog
  8. Go behind a door and say the cue through the door to your dog

A lot of these suggestions are pretty silly and not very practical, but why not try them and increase your dog's reliability? They are also great activities to give a bored dog something to do.

Have fun!
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