So you’ve taught your dog to sit. And as long as you’re standing in front of him with treats in hand, he sits. But what happens when you’re out on the street? Or at the vet’s office? Or the pet store? A lot of times it may seem like your dog has never even heard the word “sit” before. That’s partly because dogs don’t generalize well. When we humans learn that doing something is wrong – touching a hot stove, for example – we learn to be cautious around all stoves in all houses.
Our dogs don’t think like that. So we have to help them generalize through a process called “proofing.” Basically, that means teaching our dogs the same thing over and over – in different locations and under different circumstances.
So once your dog knows “sit”, here are some ideas on how to proof the behavior:
- Train in different locations. If you always work with your dog in one room, over the next week work on doing sit in a different room each day. Just spend five minutes or so doing sits in each room (one room per day). After that, you can move the training outside.
- Change your position. After you’ve worked in different rooms, try changing your position. Start by turning slightly to your right or left (so that you aren’t directly facing your dog). As you do repetitions, slowly turn further and further. Your goal is to be able to turn your back on your dog and have him sit.
- Add distance. The third proofing step is to add some distance between you and your dog. You can try this initially at random times when you’re not right by your dog. If your dog sits, great! If not, you may need to do some short training sessions where you first take a step away and ask for a sit. Then try two steps. Sometimes you may have to put a barrier between you and your dog (a baby gate, for example) to keep him from coming to you before sitting. The goal is to have him sit as soon as he hears the word – no matter where you are.
You can apply these same proofing techniques to other things you have taught your dog – “down”, “go to place”, “stay”. Just think in terms of changing location, changing your position, and adding distance.
What’s been your biggest challenge in training your dog? Is it an issue related to generalizing? If so, try some proofing techniques.