It happens so often. People will tell me their dog knows behaviors such as sit, down, and stay but when I ask them to show me, either their dog does not immediately do the behavior or does not do the behavior at all. Or many times a dog will do the behavior that is cued in one setting but not another.
When it comes to having dog training success (for you and your pet), it is important to understand the concepts of proofing and fluency – used interchangeably sometimes. What they all refer to is how well your pet REALLY knows and understands the behavior in a variety of circumstances and difficulty.
These are some great criteria to think about in terms of proofing and fluency:
PRECISION: Is your dog doing the behavior just as you want the behavior to look? What should that behavior look like?
SPEED: How quickly does your pet do the behavior?
DURATION: Will your dog remain in position or continue doing the behavior until released to do something else?
LATENCY: Latency is the time between when you give the cue and when your student offers the behavior. Does your dog sit immediately when you ask?
DISTRACTION: Can your pet do the behavior when there are distractions present, of varying levels?
DISTANCE: Can your pet do the behavior when you cue it from 3 feet away? How about across the room or at the other end of the yard?
Different behaviors will have different criteria of relevant importance. In teaching stay for example, the most relevant of these criteria are duration, distance and distraction.
Teaching These Criteria
Firstly, remember, when it comes to teaching behavior, knowing what it is specifically that you are looking for (what should the behavior ‘look like’) is important because if you do not know, you will provide unclear guidance to your learner. For this article, I won’t delve a lot into teaching cues; however, please click here to read more. That is an important step in teaching fluency.
A few more tips on proofing behavior in dog training
- Work on one fluency criteria at a time. Initially, you have to ‘get’ the behavior to happen in order to reinforce it (and reinforce it heavily to build value), and give it a cue. So that comes first. (I’m talking about active behaviors vs a stay.) In teaching a stay, the three most important criteria are duration, distraction and distance. As you are working on teaching one criteria (and increasing its difficulty), lower the criteria you are looking for in the other areas. For example, once I have given a cue to the behavior ‘sit’ with specific specifications of what ‘sit’ looks like; while I am teaching latency (sitting immediately when asked), I’ll lower the criteria temporarily of what the behavior of ‘sit’ looks like. When working on a ‘stay’, if I have built up to a minute of duration indoors, I will dramatically lower the duration of the stay when I move to another environment. I will also lower the duration when I introduce distractions.
- When introducing distractions, begin with a low level distraction in the same environment with a high rate of reinforcement. As you move to new environments, in the beginning, keep the stimulus (like a group of people or person walking another dog) far enough away that your dog can continue to focus on you. You may want to increase the value of the reinforcer you are using also. (Please click here to read about your pet’s Awesome List.) Only increase the proximity between you and the stimulus when your dog is giving you feedback that he can still do the behavior and show interest in the reinforcer. Always start where you know your dog can succeed; and if he cannot, then take that as your feedback that you need to get further away (and/or lower your criteria and/or have higher value reinforcers).
- Once you work through these steps on several behaviors, you’ll find that all subsequently taught behaviors tend to generalize more rapidly.
Remember, learning will come much more quickly when the teacher gives a lesson plan filled with fun!