Your dog passed obedience class with flying colors. He will happily heel, stay, and sit on command. But when a squirrel runs past, a car whizzes by, or you turn on the dishwasher, he goes completely berserk. What to do?
Dogs will be dogs, and their instincts can still get the best of them. Unfortunately, these impulses can land them in dangerous situations. That's why many dog owners rely on proof training.
Proof Training (a.k.a., Don that Funny Hat and Start Making Noise!)
Proof training is basically a doggie stress test. By conditioning your dog to obey you in unusual conditions, you teach him to ignore distractions and to listen to you—no matter what's going on around him.
To get started, prepare to get silly (and have fun). Do regular training exercises with your dog, but do them in an unexpected environment. Wear wigs, crazy hats, or costumes. Clap your hands, shake a tambourine, or throw a pillow across the floor. If you need to, have someone try to distract your dog while you're going over commands that he already knows. Praise him or correct him immediately, depending on his reaction. Eventually your dog will start becoming immune to these distractions and even think of them as "tricks" that should be ignored.
The Real Temptation Test
After your dog has become resilient to strange situations, it's time to start proof training in the "real world." Think of what sets him off, be it cats, birds, or balloons, and start proof training with this stimuli around him.
For example, if he can't resist squirrels, bring him to a park that has enough of these critters to distract him. While keeping your dog on a lead, go over an exercise that he is completely familiar with. Every time he disobeys, correct him quickly, and when he obeys, immediately pour on the praise. When he consistently listens to you while on his lead, remove it and start practicing the exercises again. (Just be sure he's in a safe environment and obey leash laws). Eventually you will be able to increase your distance from him.
You'll find that with a lot of proof training and patience, your pal will learn to respond to your commands first and his instincts second. Plus, the neighborhood squirrels will thank you.