I swear I didn’t make this up. Actually, I kinda wish I did so I could name it after me. You know, like “Sword’s Pickle Test.” Or something. I’m still working on this legacy thing. My time will come.
But of course I’m not that clever to come up with this on my own, people. Somewhere along the puppy raising journey and immersing myself in All Things Dog, I picked up this helpful tidbit of dog training advice. It’s a handy way to proof commands with your four-legged charge.
Here’s the thing. When you think you have a pup responding to a particular command and he’s reached a proficiency level, give him the Pickle Test.
Let’s say you’re working on a foundational behavior response, such as the obligatory Sit. You practice this in your kitchen, first rewarding with a tasty treat, then gradually expecting the appropriate butt-on-the-floor response sans the noms. You got this. The puppy’s got this.
You know, you both probably do. Got this, that is. But let’s check one thing first.
“Sit,” you say to your puppy.
And of course he does, because you’ve been working on this for a while. You pause for positive reinforcement of choice – a treat, verbal praise, or to give an ear scritch. All is as it should be.
Then this happens.
You look at your puppy again. Eye contact is the key, right? Now say it like you mean it.
“Pickle,” you say.
And the pup sits.
What is this madness, you wonder. You think back. Have you ever even said the word Pickle in front of your dog, even on Hamburger Thursdays? You recall asking for extra pickles in the Wendy’s drive-through that one time, but …
Ah, it clicks. It’s not the word, it’s the placement. If you’ve only practiced the Sit command in the kitchen, your puppy is associating the situation with his behavior response. This vinyl flooring, that faint aroma of bacon that always seems to be there, and even your body language and tone of voice.
“This is the place I put my bottom on the floor,” thinks the puppy. “This makes the Food Lady happy.”
So this is a reminder to mix things up. Make a pickle relish out of your commands, so to speak. Go outside or practice at the pet food store or at a friend’s house. Give the command with your back turned to the puppy. Do it with distractions. Do all this and more, with success in mind, and not to just catch the puppy doing something wrong. We don’t want to set him up for failure, you see.
Whoever I snagged this wisdom from, hey thanks. Wish I could give you credit, but unfortunately that memory box in my head has been archived and I’m just too unorganized to find it again. Instead, I forward it on for the greater good.
So, were you already aware of this trick? Or did you try it? Drop a comment and let me know how it went for you.