When training a dog, you will always have one of four primary objectives in mind: create a behavior, increase or decrease the reliability or frequency of a behavior, or eliminate a behavior all together. The most common of these is creating a behavior, followed by increasing that new behavior’s reliability and response time to the command that prompts the behavior.
When you ask a dog to ‘Sit’, you want the dog’s immediate response to be plant their butt on the floor. It is one of the most common commands dog owners teach their dog because it is easy to mold the behavior early on.
Why Reliability is Essential for Obedience
Unfortunately, once the owner has taught their dog to sit on command, it is all too common for training to cease, leaving the dog’s understanding of the command incomplete. This results in a dog with an unreliable, or what I like to call a ‘showy’ version of obedience. Your dog has unreliable obedience when they:
- only sits when it knows you have a treat.
- sits a few seconds after the command is given.
- only sits after the command is given 2 or 3 times.
- does not sit if a squirrel, another dog, or another person is present.
- only holds the sit position for a moment, then immediately breaks position.
- does sit, but immediately performs another command without being asked.
These are all common dog training issues that trainers see dog owners struggling with daily. The problem is that the dog has not been conditioned or proofed in their understanding of the command being given. Or more accurately, the owner has not clearly explained, through training, all of the requirements that go with the command being given.
What is missing is a completed training process for obedience. The dog has been taught the sit command, but that command has not been conditioned or proofed against the real world. No different than a child going through school learning basic math, but never being given the context of using math to balance a checkbook.
So how do you condition and proof obedience? What more must you do as a dog owner to help your dog understand that sit means more than just butt-meet-floor? You work the dog’s taught obedience in the context of the three D’s – duration, distance, and distractions.
What are the Three D’s of Dog Training
Simply put, the three D’s are conditions to train your dog to maintain while in command. Your dog should not only execute the command immediately, but maintain that command under:
- Duration – for any length of time after the command is given, until you have indicated the dog can do something else
- Distance – regardless of how close or far away you are or end up being from the dog while it is in command
- Distractions – regardless of environmental changes that may entice the dog to want to break from their command
As your dog’s owner and handler, you must be willing to work on and test these parameters with your dog in order to accomplish true, functional obedience.
Your dog will only understand the parameters that you teach them. If you teach your dog to sit butt-to-floor on command, but never enforce to the dog that it much maintain that position until told otherwise, it will assume that by touching butt-to-floor, it has completed the obedience task and can move on at its own leisure. Without practicing, or conditioning, this parameter, your dog’s obedience will never truly be reliable or functional.
Here’s an example. While on a walk, your dog stops to poop. Once finished, you need to pick it up. You command your dog to sit while you clean up. Your dog complies at first, but then sees a squirrel in the yard across the street. Because you haven’t working on conditioning your dog through training practice to maintain his sit until told otherwise, he breaks his sit and goes charging across the street. You lose your balance and fall, lose hold of the leash, and your dog is now running in front of cars and giving chase all around your neighborhood. In this distracted state, your dog doesn’t even register your commands to stop, sit, or come.
There are number of ways that story could end, and most of them involve injury or worse to your dog and possibly others.
Trust and Respect
But it’s not all about worst case scenarios. The process of training and conditioning your dog’s obedience doesn’t just build reliability. Conditioning and proofing obedience builds a bond between you and your dog that no amount of cuddles can create. It establishes true trust and respect between you and your dog.
You as your dog’s handler have to be willing to test your dog’s reliability. That means testing not only their obedience, but your relationship against new situations, building the results you want to see with each experience.
The three D’s are part of what defines your dog’s reliability, specifically reliability in your dog’s obedience.
What the Three D’s Looks like in Real Life
Imagine walking down the road with your dog at heel. While walking, you have a chance encounter with a friend. So you stop to talk, giving your dog a ‘Sit’ command next to you. You end up chatting for a solid 15 minutes, but all the while your dog maintains their sit, to the point your friend remarks that they forgot you had the dog with you. This is reliability with duration.
Say your friend has their mail in hand, and while talking, a gust of wind sends some of the mail flying behind you down the sidewalk. You tell your dog ‘Stay’ and go to pick it up. You end up about 30 feet down the sidewalk chasing the mail, but your dog is still right where you left him when you return. That is reliability with distance.
Now imagine while you are chatting, a small, off-leash dog appears from nowhere and charges up to you. You can’t tell if the dog is friendly or aggressive and need to address the situation immediately. Instead of reacting, your dog maintains his sit and looks at you. You repeat your ‘Stay’ command and put your full attention on the oncoming dog. This is reliability with distractions.
Finally, imagine this exact scenario, but without the first two commands. When you stop to speak with your friend, your dog goes into a sit automatically. When you move away to grab the mail, your dog waits for you without so much as a whimper. Only when the unexpected happens do you need to clarify to your dog what they need to do for you, stay put. This is reliability in your relationship. It’s the pinnacle of the dog-human bond, and something any owner can aspire to with practice.
How to Achieve the Three D’s
Before you start worrying about your dog’s ability to handle duration, distance, and distractions, you first need to make sure you dog actually knows it’s obedience commands in the first place.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, a dog must first be taught a command. This means the dog knows to immediately and accurately sit on command. Oftentimes owners will be lenient about the basic requirements of a command, allowing the dog to ignore the command from time to time, or let the dog takes their time following through on the command given. These issues must be addressed first before you worry about the three D’s.
That is not to say you can’t practice teaching the obedience command and conditioning the three D’s simultaneously. But if your dog isn’t going into a sit immediately, then there’s no point in getting frustrated when your dog won’t maintain that sit for more than a few seconds.
The best way to teach, condition, and proof a command is through an appropriate balance of reward and correction. This balance is different for each dog. Some dogs just need a reward when they do well to give them clarity. Some dogs need to know when they are doing something wrong. Knowing what this balance is for your particular dog can be challenging, which is why it is always advisable to hire an experienced trainer to work with you one-on-one.
Reliable obedience is less common than many dog owners realize. Many dogs in our society simply cannot comprehend obedience commands to the level that their owners would like. Training your dog under the three D’s can ensure your dog understands you even in the most overwhelming scenarios.
If you would like to strengthen your dog’s obedience as well as your bond with your dog, schedule a free call with me today and we’ll talk through designing a custom process for you and your dog to succeed together.