Take The Ten Treat Test! Does Your Dog Really "Know" an Exercise?
(download PDF here)

It's common for trainers to hear that a "problem" dog "knows" commands such as sit.  But do they really?

It is also common for owners to complain that a dog sits for a treat, but still jumps up on visitors.  Why exactly would a trained dog disobey?

Typical obedience classes start with beginner level exercises.  They are like kindergarten.  Real life distractions are more difficult skills.  Those are like university.

Owners often try to take their dog straight from kindergarten through to university - without stopping at grade school or high school.  If you understand how to test your own dog, you can move seamlessly from one level to the next.  You can customize any exercise to meet your dog's current obedience level.

Start by creating a plan.  Let's look at sit as an example.

Create a list of situations where you want your dog to sit politely.

Rank those situations from easiest to hardest.

For example, most dogs will sit when at home and there are no visitors.  That would be an easy exercise. Can that same dog obey when owners are trying to put a leash on it?  Will it sit patiently and wait while the owner reaches for the door knob?  Will it sit when it hears a knock at the door?  Does the dog obey when owners are not looking at the dog?  What if owners are not holding a treat or standing in "dog training position"?

These are all medium level exercises.  All dogs need to work through these steps.  If owners take their dogs through these exercises one step at a time, the dog will eventually have an incredibly reliable sit command.  With practice, they can learn to sit while visitors come to the door or stop to chat on the street.

Avoid charging through exercises haphazardly.  If you want to know if your dog is ready for a more challenging version of an exercise - do the sit test.

  • Get exactly 10 treats.  Ask your dog to sit.  Give the dog an appropriate amount of time to respond.  Do not repeat your command.  Don't help.  Just ask and wait.
  • If the dog sits, give it a treat.  If it doesn't, then put the treat off to the side.  Count to 5 and then ask for another sit.
  • Continue until you have gone through all 10 treats.
  • Look at the number of treats the dog did not earn.  That is how many times the dog was wrong. Then calculate how many they got right.  Two wrong means eight right.  Eight out of ten means the dog got 80%.
  • Based on the dog's results, you can now determine if you should work at more difficult exercises.

Percentage correct  

Next Steps

80% and above

Move up one level

70%

Keep practicing at this level

Below 70%

Move down one level

By testing and re-testing you can customize any basic obedience skill to suit your lifestyle.  Gradually work through distractions and you'll have a dog that reaches university level skills.