This page on Street Safety Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section One of the Advanced Course

Street Safety Training
Page Two of a three-page section

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Overlearning and the Street Safe Dog

An uncontrolled canine running loose in the street represents a terrible danger to more than just the dog himself, because the situation can quickly morph into an interspecies disaster as automobiles brake unexpectedly and swerve into one another, or veer into pedestrians in deadly fashion as panicked drivers overreact in a desperate attempt to steer clear of the dog.

It is no joke. If you are taking a dog out in public, especially an off-lead dog, keeping the animal out of the street is a matter of life and death for more than just your dog.

For that reason, you will want your dog to do more than learn not to go into the street on his own accord. Indeed, that particular lesson needs to be overlearned.

Overlearning is the name given to the practice of drilling your dog repeatedly and intensely until the information imparted is absorbed in such a profound fashion that it becomes an integral part of who he is, leading to near perfect behavior in terms of the lesson learned. In other words, it is a matter teaching your dog not to go in the street in such a thorough way that he will never forget, and never do it without first being given the okay.

Facilitating Overlearning by Fading Your Dog into an Ambush

When you are first teaching your dog to sit at the curb and wait for permission to enter the street, you are going to need to give him all the cues you can to remind him of what he is supposed to do and how he is supposed to do it.

For example, when you are first teaching your dog to stop and sit when he arrives at a street, you will place your hands on him, give him the command, move him into the proper posture and, if necessary, hold him in that position until you give him the release command. Then, after issuing your verbal release, you will need to step into the street with such an exaggerated motion that it will be clear to your dog that he is supposed to follow suit.

In other words, when you are first teaching your dog to sit at the curb, you are going to give him so many cues and prompts about what he is supposed to do that there is no possibility that he will be able to get it wrong.

However, as you and your dog work your way through a great many repetitions over time, your dog will begin to anticipate what comes next, and he will then start to participate on his own accord. For example, at some point, your dog will begin to sit before you put your hands on him, and soon after that you will discover that he begins to sit automatically at the curb, even if you do not command him to do so.

As your dog gets better and better and begins to fall into the routine, you should, correspondingly, provide him with fewer and fewer prompts. Therefore, at the beginning of the process you will want to be so actively involved in giving the command and moving your dog into position that it will be impossible for him to make a mistake. In contrast, given a little time and a lot of repetitions, your dog's curbside behavior will eventually evolve to the point where he will automatically stop and sit when he reaches the curb, without any input from you whatsoever.

The first time you run your dog through his curbside routine, he will do it perfectly, because you will gently place your hands on him and move him into position, so that it will be impossible for him to do otherwise. As time goes by and your dog starts to catch on to what he is expected, you will want to gradually clue him in less and less often as you provide him with fewer and fewer hints, cues, and prompts about what he is supposed to do.

However, it is essential that you remove your support gradually, only as it is no longer required to cause your dog to perform the sit at the curb response perfectly.

What your dog does is a reflection of what you do. So, If your dog makes a mistake, for example, if he stands up before he is supposed to, you will be to blame, because that will mean that you began to fade out the reminders to remain seated before he had time to get into the habit.

Always keep in mind, then, that you must fade out your hints, prompts, cues, and reminders, gradually, and only as the dog develops sufficiently to render the prompts no longer necessary. So then, the first time you make your dog sit at the curb, you will guide him along so carefully that he can only do it perfectly. All you have to do from there is to make it a point to fade out your prompts and reminders so gradually, over time, that your dog will always get it right. Indeed, you must be so judicious in fading your prompts that your dog will never have the chance to get it wrong.

The Do This - Not that, Street Safety Ambush

Before you move on to the ambush, then, which is the next phase of street safety training, it is essential that your dog first be given time to develop the expectation that at every roadway you will either:

  1. Stop and make him sit and wait for the release command before he proceeds, or
  2. you will tell him okay just an instant before the two of you step off the curb and into the street together.
  3. Or, you will command him to heel just before you step into the street with him.

Therefore, after a few weeks or a few months have gone by in which you have taken your dog through enough repetitions that he has had time to come to fully expect you to make one of those three responses as a matter of routine, the stage will be set for you to employ an ambush proceedure as a means of ensuring that your dog will overlearn the task of staying out of the street.

Thereafter, the next time the two of you arrive at a roadway, you will want to make a change in the procedure, so the next time you are out walking with him, do not give him the okay, do not command him to heel, and do not make him sit. Rather, you should just keep walking and step off the curb yourself as you allow your dog to enter the street with you. But then, moving quickly, get ahead of him and turn so that you are facing your dog as you block his way, thereby making it impossible for him to move further along into the street.

At that point, you will want to employ a do this - not that, procedure as you aggressively shoo your dog back up onto the sidewalk using an abrasive unsettling voice. However, the instant that he steps back out of the street and onto the curb, you should switch over to your gladdening voice as you pet him, praise him, and tell him he is a good dog.

Even if you are working with an on lead dog, it is still far better to get ahead of the animal and shoo him back onto the curb from in front, than it is to use the lead to drag him back to the curb from behind, because the goal here is to teach your dog and motivate him to do something on his own, rather than physically forcing him to do what it is that you want done. Therefore, even though you may need to use the lead to get your dog slowed down so you can get out in front of him, always make it a point to shoo the animal back to the curb from in front, so that he goes on his own accord, rather than trying to drag him back from behind using the lead, because that can only serve to upset your dog without teaching him anything, and teaching him is the entire point of this exercise.

Throughout this workshop, whenever possible, you are taught to provide your dog with so many prompts and so much support that he will have no choice other than to perform every commmand he is given in perfect fashion. Then, you are taught to fade out the prompts so gradually that your dog will continue to perform each given command perfectly, even in the absence of extensive support. But ambush procedures are different.

In an ambush procedure you allow your dog to make the mistake of entering the street improperly. In fact, you actually lure him into making the mistake by stepping off the curb and into the street yourself. However, your dog must learn that just because someone else enters the street, that does not make it all right for him to enter the street. No indeed, your dog must learn that, unless you give him the okay or a command is given to move forward in the heel position, that he should never enter the street.

In a word, then, the ambush is a setup, and your dog will soon realize that you do sometimes try to trick him in that fashion. And that will make him hypervigilant, which is just exactly what you want him to be when it comes to matters related to the deadly roadways that run on all sides of him.

Working an ambush procedure on your dog can be tremendous fun for the animal, or it can be an anxiety-provoking, traumatic ordeal. To make sure that it is the former, and to ensure that it does not become the latter, there are two things that you will need to do:

  1. When your dog sees through the trap and sits on the curb, even though you walk on a few paces into the street, heap praise and reward on the animal, making it clear that you are dazzled, amazed, and overly astounded by his brillance.
  2. If your dog initially gets it wrong and enters the street improperly, then, after you have abrasively shooed him out of the road, the instant that he gets back up on the curb, at that point you will want to use you gladdening voice and massaging hands to make it clear that you are dazzled, amazed, astounded, and just as pleased as you can be.

The point is that your street training ambush should always end with your dog doing it right and you being happy about it, even if that only happens in the last half of a this, not that procedure and you have to put your hands on him and move him into position to make it happen. No matter what, the ambush should always end on a triumphet note, with your dog feeling pleased with himself because he got it right. And there should be no doubt in your dog's mind that you are pleased with him as well. That is a critically important point, because you need to see to it that training becomes a highly rewarding, extremely enjoyable process for your dog that is almost, (though not quite), entirely free of stress and anxiety.

If you do it right, your dog will soon come to think of the street ambush as being an exciting, thoroughly enjoyable version of Simon Says, in which no matter what else might happen to lure him into the street, he learns that he is, nonetheless, never to leave the curb unless Simon specifically says that it's alright.

So make it fun, because if your training regimen comes to be characterized by tedium, stress, or drudgery, or your corrections make your dog more than fleetingly anxious, only very bad things can come of that. Training should be enjoyable, so make sure that it is exciting enough, fun enough, and rewarding enough to ensure that your dog will love engaging in the process.

The Result

If you adopt the street safety protocol described on these pages, and you keep it up over time, you will find that your dog will soon begin to sit on his own accord every time you come to a street, without you first having to tell him or physically prompt him to do so. In addition, your dog will soon realize that unless the release command is given, or he is commanded to move forward in the heel position, that he is forbidden to enter the street.

As you might expect, dogs that are descended from breeds that are prone to do well at obedience training will tend to pick up street safety skills more readily and learn them much more thoroughly.

Go forward to page three of the street safety training section

Go to the street safety training index

This page on Street Safety Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network