The deadman test is an important training concept that focuses attention on the desired behavior which clarifies the training process and reduces frustration of the person doing the training. Behavior is described as something that is observable. You can measure how much of it you have. For example, the dog jumps on company for 2 minutes then keeps its feet on the ground or the dog lays down and stays in that position for 2 minutes.
But the human tendency is to describe behavior in terms of what we don’t want.
• My dog should not pull on leash.
• The dog cannot jump on people.
• He will not chew things up.
• She doesn’t pay attention.
If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior.
A deadman doesn’t pull on leash, can’t jump on people, will not chew things up etc.
We also have a tendency to label behaviors with moral descriptions. The dog is being naughty; the dog is being dominant; the dog is getting back at us; the dog is acting guilty.
These phrases fail to tell us what the dog is actually doing. And if we are going to observe, analyze and modify behavior, we have to know that.
You want a description of what you do want the dog to do.
• The dog will move closer to me when it feels the leash get tight.
• I want the dog to keep its feet on the floor when greeting people
• My dog will lay down and not change position until released
• When I call my dog, I want it to turn on a dime and run to me as fast as it can.
The deadman test does not allow you to define behavior as a negative or an absence of something.
Attempting to define a behavior by what it isn’t fails the “dead-man test.”
Behavioral descriptions that have the word not or a contraction with not (doesn’t, won’t) usually fail the dead-man test. The dead-man test stops you from going down the road of focusing on what you don’t want which lead to emotions of frustration and anger towards your canine buddy.
Instead the dead man test has you describe what you do want, so you have the option of rewarding that behavior. If I have a dog that jumps on people, I can start rewarding my dog for keeping its feet on the ground when people are out of range (10 feet away) and I will strategically place my rewards low (ankle level) to help diminish any upward movement. Using the DeadMan test will clarify what behavior you need to reward and reduce frustration by concentrating on what you want instead of what you don’t want.