When I'm talking to dog owners about the behaviours their dog can perform, there are some common things I hear from them
'He downs really well...but only if I have a treat in my hand'
'She sits really well...until something distracts her'
These sentences tell me a couple of things.
Firstly, the dog probably doesn't understand the command or the outcomes nearly as well as the human thinks they do. If you find yourself saying 'He will do it IF...' your dog understands the context and not the command. If the dog cannot listen to your word or observe your gesture and perform the behaviour without needing a specific series of other things (the food bowl, the treat in your hand, the time of day) then your dog doesn't understand your cue! Simple as that.
If you tell me 'she does really well UNTIL or UNLESS something else happens' then it tells me something else. The first thing can still be true, it's quite possible if your dog doesn't understand your cue, that they will definitely not be able to do it when they are distracted since they are already confused.
But this statement ususally means the behaviour has not been proofed. Proofing is the process of taking a known behaviour and making sure the dog can do it in a variety of environments and with a variety of other things going on. A behaviour isn't really complete until this is true.
So what do we do about it? I want you to change the way you think about the behaviours your dog can perform and move the language you use from 'if' or 'until' to EVEN THOUGH.
For example - My dog can sit EVEN THOUGH he can't see a treat in my hand
My dog can stay in their down EVEN THOUGH the other dogs are walking past them
They can stay on ther bed EVEN THOUGH there is a pouch of food on the ground next to them
My dog can listen to my watch command EVEN THOUGH there is cat over there
They can come EVEN THOUGH there is an interesting scent trail over there
For each behaviour, begin creating an EVEN THOUGH list. A list of things that your dog will endure or ignore when performing that behaviour. The longer this list? The better your dog's performance and the more stable and reliable that behaviour will be, the closer you will be to considering that behaviour to be something your dog knows well.
What is a behaviour your dog can do EVEN THOUGH....?