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Distance Commands

Distance commands are the ability to give your dog a command from a distance. Distance commands help out tremendously with Distraction Training.

Distance Commands play a step in the Core Rule: A to B Rule. They are the little steps between the Distraction Steps.

Force vs Reward

Force from what we can see doesn’t even have a standing in this category. Reward training is the dominator in Distance Commands.

My Dog Follows Me and Won’t Stay, How Do I Train Distance?

The first and easiest step is to tie the dog in position with about a 3 foot leash. See the article on Stay as this can help associate good things with being tied on leash before you begin Distance Commands.

2 Ways to Train Distance Commands

Both ways involve tying up the dog.

  1. One step at a time - You start close and then practice one step further away from the dog at a time.

  2. Speed Reading Rules - Every now and then you get a breakthrough in training that really speeds things up. This is it.

One step at a time

This is self explanatory. It is the slow way of doing things. To give you an example. Our training facility is 40 feet long. Training dogs to do sit or down at 40 feet one step at a time took an average of 5 days. Speed reading rules cuts that down to an average of 20-60 minutes.

Speed Reading Rules

In a speed reading course the goal is to increase the rate at which you read. The same methods can be applied to Dog Training and other aspects of life.

Let’s say your reading Level is Level 1. At a speed reading course they have you “laser” your eyes down the page super fast at Level 10. Then they have you scan the page really quickly at Level 5. Then they test you on what you read. At first you think you didn’t remember anything but you are surprised at how many things you got right on the test.

To get faster you have to go over and above what you are capable of (we now call this Super Proofing). Then you come back to a lower level, yet still higher than where you started, and you do well at it.

At the speed reading course we took the instructor told us a story about her daughter. She said she was in softball (baseball) and one of the worst hitters on the team. She decided to apply speed reading rules to baseball. She took her to the batting cage, not the softball cage, she put her in the fastball cage. This girl can’t hit a softball, there is no way she will hit an 80 mp/h fastball. She said she “half ticked” the fastball was the closest she came to hitting it. But when she went back to softball she could hit those balls to the end of the park. She said they seemed more like beach balls floating through the air. They seemed really easy in comparison to fastball.

Applying Speed Reading Rules

With the dog tied up you will do a couple of close commands for sit or down (whichever you are working on). Next you will go to a far off distance. In our training facility we go to the very end which is 40 feet.

Then we give the command, wait about 1 second, take a step closer give the command again, wait 1 second, take another step closer etc. We do this until we get close enough to the dog that they do the command. This is often when you are just one or two steps in front of the dog. There are some quick learners that will put it together at that distance but most you will be right back in front of the dog.

When you go to that distance and give the command the dog will try to pull to get over to see you.

You ever notice that most dogs will do a command when you stand right in front of them but if you give the command a few steps away, they come over to you and then do the command?

The reason for this is that dogs are 8 times better at reading body language than humans are. To us the command doesn’t look much different at a distance but to a dog it looks very different.

This is where people can get upset with their dogs if they don’t do the command at a distance. The dog has been very successful close up but at a distance if they don’t do it, we often automatically assume the dog is being stubborn. This is University Professor Syndrome in effect. It looks like an easy connection for us but it isn’t always that easy for the dog.

Tying the dog up prevents them from coming over to you. It is very important that the dog be tied up.

Tip: Having someone stand on the dog’s leash seems to work way better than tying the dog up to a location and walking away from them. We don’t know what the difference is but some dogs will really freak out if they are tied up and left by themselves. With another human, everything is peachy.

You can A to B Rule the steps for having someone stand on the leash and transfer to the dog being tied up by themselves. For this you have someone stand on the leash and try a few. Next you tie the dog up to something and have your helper stand close to the dog. Then have your helper move a step away, then another step until eventually the dog is there by themselves.

If you are by yourself and don’t have a helper then work on Stay. We tie the dog up and say “stay” and walk away. Many dogs will freak out and try to follow, we then come back and reward them with kibble even if they are freaking out. You may think Core Rule: Training Every Second applies but it doesn’t seem to. We do this a few times and the dog then thinks “They are just going to come back and reward me, I might as well sit here and make myself comfortable.” Then they start to enjoy being tied up.

It helps out to exercise the dog first before tying them up for stay or sit and down commands. This is according to Core Rule: Energy Spectrum - Hyper vs Tired.

Back to Speed Reading Rule Process

The next time you go to walk a ways away (in our case 40 feet), you will give the command, wait 3 seconds, take a step closer, give the command, wait another 3 seconds and repeat that until you are close enough to the dog for them to understand the command.

Each time we go back to the far distance point we wait a bit longer before coming forward. This is where the power of Food Training works. The dog is trying to think of a way to speed up the rate at which the food is delivered to them.

Important: You may find at a distance the dog does the command you ask, you will then proceed immediately over to them as soon as they do the command, don’t wait. Otherwise you run the risk of the dog doing something different and you miss the chance to reward the dog.

The other important thing is that when you are walking toward the dog, the dog will often stand up. As soon as they do you want to freeze in position. We don’t say anything, we just freeze. This teaches the dog that whatever they have just done, stopped the reward from coming. If a person kept coming toward the dog and rewarded them, they are technically rewarding the dog for breaking command. The dog will usually be a bit confused and take a while to do the command again. Each time you come back and the dog breaks command and you freeze, the dog will revert back to the command quicker and quicker as they learn staying in this command keeps the reward coming.

Helpful Tip: When doing the Down command, many dogs will get up right after they are rewarded. To help keep the dog in a down we “jackpot” reward the dog. We give them one kibble after the other for staying in a down. The dog learns that if they remain in the down, they get a lot of rewards. If they get up you stop rewarding and lure the dog back down.

This really helps the dog learn to stay in a down while you are walking back toward them to reward them.

Distance Level 2

Once the dog is beginning to master distance commands in the house with low distractions you will want to increase Distractions.

One of the first things we try is playing back sound recordings of dogs barking, other animals, environmental sounds, knock at the door, etc.

A dog will typically become quite distracted. If you were successful at 40 feet away before, you may need to come within 5 feet of the dog or often times lure them back into position. It can feel like you have done no training whatsoever. Remember: Whenever you increase distance or distractions a dog will almost always make mistakes.

Soon, most dogs will resume doing their commands at a far distance while the distraction noise is playing on the stereo. Some of the crazies will take longer. We have a crazy dog and she took a long time to overcome distractions.

Distance Level 3

Next step is to go outside, tie the dog to a tree, post or other immovable object and begin working on distance commands again.

Outside we typically do this in a green space with no other distractions. Just being outside is distraction enough.

Helpful Tip: It can be helpful to let the dog run around in that area on a long line if their recall isn’t great to let them check out all the smells. As they tire out a bit they are much better suited for doing Distance Commands. This is according to Core Rule: Energy Spectrum - Hyper vs Tired.

Distance Level 4

Next is to begin practicing with a sidewalk or pathway at a distance. Somewhere there might be dogs and people going for a walk.

Distance Level 5

For this we start practicing closer to a sidewalk or pathway. We may even try to tie the dog on one side and then have yourself cross the to the other side of the pathway. This leaves dogs and people walking between you and your dog. This helps teach your dog to focus on you even while dogs and people are walking between you.

Super Proofing Distance

For this we practice Distance Commands up to 250 meters. That might not sound like much to some but when you walk that far away from your dog a big dog looks like a really little dog. With a little dog you will likely need binoculars to verify if the dog is actually sitting or laying down.

You usually have to exaggerate your hand signals. This is where we do a big sweep up with our arm for sit and a big sweep down with our arm for down. You may have to yell the command so your dog can even hear you.

We build this up in stages. Typically 100 meters, 150 meters, 200 meters, 250 meters. 300 meters is getting to be ridiculously far and really pushing the boundary. We tried to proof our German Shepherd up to 500 meters. She could hardly see me and definitely couldn’t hear me so we strapped a walkie-talkie to her harness. When I radioed the command, that had her looking concerned and she tried to figure out how my voice was coming from behind her. If we kept practicing we would have got it down but it was a cold winter day so we decided to leave it for later.