What does it mean to ‘proof’ an exercise when training a dog?
Proofing an exercise is the last part of teaching the dog to do the given task in any situation. Dogs are not good at generalising and so when we teach them an exercise they only tend to learn it in that particular context, not in any other context. When you ‘proof’ the exercise you are teaching the dog to do it in every situation you want him to be able to do it in. It also includes adding in distractions to the environment and practising the exercise until the dog can concentrate on performing it at the same level despite the added difficulty. When your dog can perform the exercise you have taught in a range of places with a range of distractions reliably, then you can say you have ‘proofed’ the exercise. It is important to proof exercises to keep to the dog safe from dangers and make sure he does not cause a nuisance to other people or livestock. It makes sure he behaves as well out in public, or on someone else’s property, as he does at home.
For example if you only teach your dog to sit in the kitchen before feeding him, he probably won’t know what ‘sit’ means at a kerb, or in the park etc, unless you proof the exercise in these places also. He may not even perform ‘sit’ in the kitchen when surrounded by noisy children or food being dropped at the table unless you practise this exercise with these distractions. It is normal to start off with as few distractions as possible and then build them up later on to ‘proof’ the exercise and make the dog reliable at performing it.
Proofing the ‘stay’ command can be done by starting to teach the stay when your dog is right next to you, then gradually increasing the distance between yourself and the dog while asking him to stay. Only increase the difficulty when the dog is successful 9/10 in regular short training sessions. After this, practise the stay with some added distractions such as the TV on, or the door to the garden open. When the dog is reliable at performing the stay at home with plenty of distractions move on to the park, or a friend’s house etc.