Raise your hand if you have said this before, “He does this perfectly at home”. Yes, your dog might sit, come, lie down, and do all sorts of things at home. Yes, your dog will listen to you at home. But you go outside, and you have a completely different dog. Suddenly, your dog doesn’t listen to you anymore as he used to. So, how to improve your dog’s reliability?
Dog trainers often hear the same complaint, “he does this at home” when owners come to training class. And it happens in the first few weeks. Well, of course, he does that at home. But then, dog trainers often talk about how to achieve reliability. That means getting your dog to do what you ask of him anywhere, anytime, and under any conditions.
What do we consider a reliable dog?
Let’s get this out there from the very beginning, you cannot have a 100% reliable dog. Nobody is 100% reliable. Think about yourself for a moment, there are surely times you do not do what you are told to. For example, how many times do you check your phone during working hours? Do you have permission for that? Probably no, but you manage to sneak a few minutes here and there.
Well, dogs cannot be 100% reliable as well. Behavior professionals define reliability as responding appropriately to the cue at least 80% of the time.
In simple terms, that means your dog sits 8 out of 10 times when you ask him to. It is unreasonable to expect 100% reliability.
Nobody is perfect. We have bigger brains, and some would say, we are the more intelligent creatures. But we are not 100% perfect at all times. So, why should our dogs be?
That aside, it is quite possible to get 80% reliability. If your dog sits at home but doesn’t do it quite often when you are outside, we can talk about how to improve your dog’s reliability.
The neat trick to improve reliability
So, we are now at the main question, how to improve your dog’s reliability? Simple, by practicing random commands.
In simple terms, that means randomizing a minimum of three different behaviors at the same time. If your dog anticipates a behavior, he will not do it on cue.
When it comes to sitting, you can randomize commands like sit, lie down, and stand. All those three work together. But if your dog does it in a pattern all the time, stand > sit > lie down > stand, he will never learn the true meaning of lie down or sit. And he will not sit anytime and anywhere.
I recommend doing random commands with these three. But you have to get every position from a different position. What does that mean? You have to get a sit from lie down and from a stand. And you have to get a lie down from sit and stand. And you can add many more commands if you like. Roll over, high five, jump, or any other command you can think of.
You can try patterns like stand > sit > stand > lie down > sit > lie down > stand, and so on. Do different patterns every time. And once your dog learns to do proper commands at home, take it outside.
Try with smaller distractions first, and then up the ante. Do your training at a place with more distractions. For example, you can practice during walks. Every 5 minutes or so, you can stop, and you can do a pattern. Then, after five minutes, do it again. And the next day, try a different pattern.
Remember, you cannot achieve reliability in a day, two, or a week. You have to practice patiently over and over again.
The more reliable your dog gets, you increase the distraction level. Remember, you lose points in real life if your dog anticipates the command. You will never get a reliable dog if he anticipates a behavior and does it because this follows that.