What do we mean when we talk about proofing?
It simply means to make your dog stronger – fluent – by adding measured challenges to your behaviors. The way to create fluency is by playing games that ask the question, Can you perform if…..
Then you fill in the blank.
“Prove” to me that you can perform this behavior under a range of circumstances, and then I will believe that you are fluent in the behavior. And hopefully, closer to being competition ready!
Can you “sit” on cue if I am in a chair? Can you sit if we are away from home? Can you sit when I am far away? Behind a gate? On a ladder? With my back to you? When I don’t have a cookie in my hand? When a dog walks by? When your treats are sitting next to you?
When you ask these questions and work through the myriad possibilities, you help your dog develop the ability to perform under a wide range of circumstances. As a result, the dog show reality isn’t nearly as difficult or challenging for your dog, because they are already comfortable performing under adversity.
The good news about fluency is that it will eventually become a concept rather than a specific skill to be mastered. What I mean is that if your dog can perform a “sit”cue under ten sets of circumstances, then odds are pretty good that when you introduce an eleventh, your dog will perform on the first attempt because he has generalized the behavior. When you see this, your dog is likely to do just fine at the dog show when you ask for a sit, even if the specific distraction that you encounter at the show is different than the ones that you have trained for.
MondioRing is a protection sport that emphasizes fluency. Each trial is unique and your dog will be asked to perform a set of exercises in truly novel circumstances. I competed in MondioRing a few years ago with Raika and we were definitely challenged! I might be asked to show Raika’s position changes (sit, down, stand and come) while I sat on a hay bale. The next day the judge might reverse that, with the dog sitting on the hay bale. As a result of these trial expectations, Mondioring training is all about fluency – teaching the dog the behaviors and helping them understand their job regardless of the environment, distractions or handler behavior.
While Lyra lacks the temperament to perform Mondioring protection exercises, we can still use what we learned about fluency to make her obedience stronger!
Here is a video of Lyra working with surface distractions. This is the first time I’ve asked her to retrieve a toy and she fails the first time. Not a big deal. She also fails a sit cue and she offers to fetch her toy when I don’t send her. This video may give you some ideas for how you might want to handle errors when you encounter them in your training.
This was taken from a session that totaled about five minutes. I’ll train her again later today and we’ll work with no obvious distractions in a more familiar location and on a variable reinforcement schedule – the only challenge will be “time”. She enjoys training for fluency but I also believe it’s a little stressful for her, so in an effort to minimize that her next session will not be difficult. When working fluency, your reward schedule should be very high – 100% the first time you attempt new challenges.
Can you see how training for fluency will make some skills such as retrieve over high jump, the drop on recall and signals much easier for her in competition? What I am asking of here has significantly more challenge than what I am going to ask of her in a formal ring setting.