Up Your Dog Training Game with the 300 Peck Method

Adding duration and distance to behaviors such as stay is often where frustration sets in for owners. Your dog can sit or down but he pops right back up. Or he stays when you are right in front of him but not when you walk away. Why does your dog do this? Is he being willful? Stubborn? Testing you? More than likely, he’s just showing you were the holes in your training are. A common mistake in teaching Stay is upping the criteria too much, too quickly. That means you are asking for more from the dog then you have actually trained for. Sometimes that approach works out, often times it does not. But the 300 Peck Method is a quick, easy to use and effective way of building distance/duration with your dog’s behaviors.

300 Peck refers to an experiment in variable reinforcement involving pigeons.  The researcher taught pigeons to peck a bar for a reward.  Slowly extending the number of pecks between rewards, the researcher was able to train her pigeons to reliably peck the bar 300 times before they were rewarded. This seems like an incredible amount when you consider it would not be unlike your dog being trained to sit 300 times in a row before any reward was given.  Yet we expect “300 Peck” type behaviors from our dogs regularly, often without training to that level of reliability.

To use 300 Peck to teach your dog to Sit-Stay, begin with your dog in front or beside you and some good treats. have your dog sit and count to one. If your dog remains sitting, mark the behavior using a word such as “yes” or a clicker and give a treat. If your dog moves, try again. Once you have been able to reward for a count of one, count to two the next time.  If your dog stays, mark and reward then try for a count of three.  If your dog does not stay go back and start over with a count of one.  Basically you are upping the criteria by one (in this case a count of one or about one second) until your dog doesn’t perform the behavior.  At the point your dog doesn’t perform the behavior or performs the behavior incorrectly such as shifting in place, you will go back to the beginning and start over.  This takes the guesswork out of building duration on the stays by giving the trainer a easy to remember, consistent way to increase the difficulty of an exercise.

300 Peck can also be used to build the distance and work on distractions. When increasing difficulty work on only one area at a time. So work on duration, distance or distractions. While introducing a new element in one area, make the other areas easier. So when increasing distance, decrease duration and distractions. Upping the criteria of two or three aspects of difficulty at the same time may confuse your dog and cause setbacks in training.

To increase the distance for your sit stay, start with one step away. If the dog hold their position, mark and reward. Then trytwo steps away, then three and so on until the dog is no longer able to remain in position for the full count. Then go back to one step away. To increase the distractions, take one of two approaches. If your dog is very distracted by a ball, you can begin by having a ball in your pocket. Reward you dog for staying while you reach into your pocket, then while you take the ball out of your pocket, then when you present them with the ball, then when you move the ball around until your dog tells you the distraction is too great. At that point, you go back to rewarding for beginning to take the ball out of your pocket. Or you can work on distractions using distance. When doing this, you will start with your dog far enough away from the distraction that they are able to perform, gradually working your way closer and closer. Can your dog sit stay while someone bounces a ball 20′ away? If yes, mark and reward. 19′? 18′? When the answer becomes no, go back to 20′ away and start over. keep in mind that when using distractions that are safe for your dog to have access to, you can use the distraction as a reward too instead of a treat for some reps. Mixing up the rewards helps develop better reliability over time than always using food.

Once you understand the 300 Peck Method it can be used on just about any behavior where you want to build reliability by increasing duration, distance and distractions. It allows you to have an ongoing conversation with your dog during training, getting constant feedback from them about what their level of understanding truly is.


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