Once your dog is fluent in an exercise both at home and in new locations, you can then start to proof and challenge their knowledge on these skills when things look different than they normally do. I ensure when I do this that it is fun for my dog, he is going to make mistakes and that is normal, we just try again or I will make it a bit easier. My goal is to build his confidence and focus when things look a bit silly, this will help your ring performance as the competition ring and all that goes with a dog show is not at all what it is like training at home.
I remember very clearly doing articles (a high focus exercise) with my dog at a big and busy dog show in Portland a few years ago. There were vendor booths set up all around the obedience rings. Just as I was commencing the article exercise, a group of ladies started testing the squeakers in the toys they were deciding to buy. It caught my dog’s attention but she continued working through this distraction and went on to have a qualifying round. If I never challenged my dog’s focus in training, I highly doubt she would have been able to continue to carry on with the task at hand.
You can incorporate proofing ideas for every exercise in competition obedience! In this training video, I show just a few of many ideas. I produced a DVD/On-Line video on proofing because I think the word proofing can be misunderstood. It is not designed to cause your dog to make an error and then correct him for the error, at least not in my training program. I use proofing to allow my dog to experience new scenarios around an exercise which in turn help to build confidence, a stronger understanding of the exercise, to create focus even in the face of distractions, and it helps to keep my training fun, interesting and spontaneous.
I start the video clip above with my youngest dog, Seven, I have toys scattered about my training floor, this alone is a distraction he has learnt to ignore, as when I am training, I will often reward my dog with the toy that is on the ground for doing a behaviour I was asking for. He ignores the toy and he gets rewarded with it for that effort. In the clip, I am doing position changes while he is focused on a toy he would really like to play with, the toy is placed in front of him which could cause forward motion. Forward motion is something I do not want on position changes so this is helping to communicate to him that forward motion does not get you the toy.
In Spark’s video clip, I am doing even more advanced proofing, I reward him with the toy he is not looking at – the toy on the opposite side. In hindsight, I should have had the toys reversed as the highest valued toy is closest to him making it more difficult to give up, the lesser valued toy is the one I rewarded him with. Sparks is an experienced dog and he was a superstar and did great, but if I were to do this with my younger dog I would have the toys in the opposite positions to ease him into the concept of give up a toy, get a toy. Also in the Sparks video I show some spins during heeling and a hand touch on the about-turn, I like to include these to keep the heeling energized and spontaneous.
When you start proofing with your dog make things easier and build complexity on success. Ensure your dog is enjoying the process, ears up, tail wagging are good signs he is. Help him if he needs encouragement to try, don’t get angry if he can’t do it, just make it easier and build in small increments on each success.