Proofing: What is Proofing and What to Proof?

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IMG_1883Trainers often use the word “proof” when they talk about newly learned commands, or already-learned commands that they want to improve in response and reliability.  Proofing is critical, and could mean the difference between your canine listening to “Sit!” or running across a busy road to say hi to a friend.  However, to “proof a particular command and response set” is a broad statement, and can be just as confusing as teaching the command initially. Here are 3 areas to always think about when “proofing”:

  • Environment:  Environment is also a broad term that I bring with me from my science background, but in this sense, it simply means: The world around the canine.  For many, training starts at home, so the environment would be the room(s) used for training.  Included in that environment is everything that canine can cue on, like furniture, smells, noises (radio/TV), and boundaries (windows, closed doors and walls all create a sense of boundary).  When compared to the environment at say, the local dog park, many of those components (or stimuli) in the environment have changed.  The furniture is gone, the smells have changed to grass and dirt, and the boundaries have been enlarged greatly, if not removed… not to mention all the added distractions (Ball! Squirrel! Puppy!).  So when trainers say “proof for different environments,” they are referring to just that: the physical environment around your dog when you are giving the command.
  • Distraction: Distractions – Ball! Squirrel! Puppy! – are part of the global environment that offer the canine a novel, or new, sensation or object to explore, smell, taste and play with.  Distractions come in a million forms and depend on your dog’s likes and dislikes.  When trainers say “proof for distractions,” what they are saying is: use an environment already familiar to the canine (e.g. training at home) and add novel, new, or interesting things to the environment while training. Work with your canine to develop impulse control for stimuli, and so, still be able listen to the command until released or told otherwise.
  • Different Caregivers: Not all caregivers are created equal.  Some people have more presence with their body and voice, while others can blend quietly into the background.  Change up who is giving the commands, and how they are given to help ensure that all family members will get the same, or very similar, responses from your dog no matter how the command is given.

Proofing is an ongoing process. You may move across the country, try a new dog park, or have a surprise encounter a new host of Balls! Squirrels! Puppies! Meet with your local positive-reinforcement behavioral consultant so that they can help create a successful and productive plan that sets both you and your canine up for success, no matter where your adventures may take you!

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