Friday, August 2, 2013

'Proofing' is crucial part of dog training, but can often be overlooked

Flickr photo by 23am
Dogs learn valuable skills throughout their lifetimes. Some of these learned skills are the result of experiential learning through interaction with other animals, while others are learned by living amongst humans.

In the latter case, that's a combination of the simple day-to-day exchanges that we have (picking up on cues that we silently give; this is part of socialization), as well as the more obvious training that we initiate.

Training is important for a lot of reasons: it designates clear limits and boundaries, expectations and offers an enhanced way for dog and human to establish communication in this very human world.

Think of it this way: we as the responsible humans understand all-too-well the unpredictability that daily life can bring, and it's up to us to teach and reinforce specific, simple commands that are incorporated into training to help them navigate any situation that might avail itself.

Likely, the most valuable command — "come" (when called), or what's more widely referred to as "the recall" these days — is also one of the most challenging to teach and have resonance.

The reason? Oh, so many temptations, and so many variables that can sway a furry friend's attention. A squirrel, another dog, a human that they want to go and greet — you name it.

Having great recall is essential for obvious reasons, especially so that they can go off-leash say, at a dog park or whatever the case may be.

Anyone with a dog can relate to the sudden recall amnesia that they have at one time or another and that they usually exhibit at a most inopportune time. Oh, yes, I can recall times in Gretchen's young life when I thought that she'd mastered returning to my side whenever I called her if she was off-leash, only to see her ignoring me as she focused her attention on what was going on at the neighbor's, or on whatever.

The important thing to remember is that it happens to everyone, even experienced trainers. It's part of the learning process for a dog.

It's also helpful to keep in mind that simply because a canine masters a skill in a controlled environment, they aren't as good at applying it in every situation that they may find themselves in.

As with all aspects of training, it happens in steps, bit by bit.

A vital part of training — proofing, essentially testing their ability to follow though with responding to the command or prompt in various situations — is as important as introducing the command itself.

In a recent issue of The Bark, Karen London, PhD answered a vexing query from a reader, who asked why her pooch, who had seemed to have recall down pat at the dog park — a command that was reinforced with a high value treat — would suddenly ignore her prompt to come back to her and sprint to another person offering plain old dog biscuits.

London explains:

What you learned courtesy of the treat man at the park is that your dog does not know how to come when called while she was getting treats from somebody else. Furthermore, she seems to have learned that even when called, she doesn’t have to come, which may explain why her recall got worse (let’s not say “fell apart”!) and why she did not come when called even in other situations.

London, who is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT), went on to say that there's a process that needs to follow teaching a command — proofing — and it takes roughly 100 steps. These steps can mean gradually changing the physical distance that is between the human and the dog, and the venue and the variables. In essence, the backyard is a different environment than the dog park, and there's the dog's best buddy standing on the other side of the dog beach, and so forth.

Further, she offers how to handle a situation when your pet fails to exercise what he has learned, without reinforcing the unfavorable behavior.

Click here to read this and more on recall and proofing from the article, Recall: Does Your Dog Really Know to Come When Called? Recall, Interrupted

Lorrie Shaw is a blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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