Ask the Trainer: Proofing Commands

sms-logo-CS-formatWEBSit Means Sit Dog Training
Darrel Hager

Q. My dog Jimmy is 3 years old, and for the most part, very well-behaved. When we’re at home, he’s great about listening to commands—I never have any trouble getting him to come when I call or stop what he’s doing when I say no. (My husband and I give him little treats here and there for being such a good boy.) However, as soon as we get outside on our walks or daily trips to the dog park, it’s like his ears switch off and he stops listening to me. He’s very playful with everyone—including other dogs—but of course, not everybody is interested in petting and playing with him. I try to get him to sit, stay, or come back to me, but he doesn’t listen at all. It’s frustrating, and a little embarrassing, too. I should be able to control my dog outside. What should I do?

A. Whether you’ve trained your dog yourself or with a professional, you are going to have to take some time to “proof” your dog’s commands.

“Proofing” a command means teaching your dog a behavior that has a cue or command attached to it. You might find very quickly that you are able to cue your dog easily when you have a food reward present, but without the food, the command becomes unreliable, only working part of, but not all the time. Unreliability is guaranteed to happen if you have trained your dog in your kitchen, or at a training facility, but have never trained outdoors— if you have always trained with food, but never without.

Reliability is essential in order to have positive experiences with your dog in potentially dangerous environments. You want your dog to listen to you in all environments, and to understand that the command has the same value, whether there is a reward or not.

Here’s an exercise routine you can do right now to start proofing your dog’s commands.

Let’s use a command your dog should already know: “Sit.”
Step 1: Have your dog sit. If you enjoy training with food, make sure that your dog maintains the sit while eating the food.
Step 2: Add a distraction. If you are near a door, walk over and make sure your dog stays sitting while you open and shut the door. The more times you do this, the better, so practice this often.
Step 3: Change environments. After your dog has mastered steps one and two, go to a friend’s house and try it there. The same goes for outdoor training: alternate training between two parks (or more), until you feel comfortable your dog will listen anywhere.

Good luck!

ABOUT the Trainer
Sit Means Sit Dog Training: The unique Sit Means Sit training model uses attention-based training to modify behaviors and teach dogs new skills. They have been featured on Animal Planet, America Now, The Outdoor Channel, and The Tonight Show. For more information, visit SitMeansSit.com. To contact the Chicago location, call 312.618.9663.

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