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Distraction Training


This is probably the biggest problem that people encounter.


“My dog listens well at home and even outside when there are no distractions but as soon as a distraction comes out, my dog won’t listen.”


How a dog was socialized will play a big role in the difficulty of Distraction Training down the road. Take a look at the article on Socialization if you are getting a dog. If you already have a dog you can find out if you have created extra difficulties for yourself or not. By switching methods it can make things a lot easier for you.


What People Want


People most frequently want their dog to listen to them no matter what the distraction is.


Magic Formula


Here is the magic formula we have found for distraction training:


The distraction is present, while your dog focuses on you.


Note: The only way to get a dog good with a certain distraction is to practice with that distraction.


Example: A person could train their dog to sit and do it well for a year. Now if you took that same dog and put them in a room with 100 rabbits running around and expected them to sit, it might not go as well as you would think. The majority of dogs would break command and be distracted by the rabbits.


How in the World do you get a Dog to Focus on you with Distractions?


These are the methods we found to work best and in the order we start with:


  1. Long Line Recall

  2. Sits and Downs for Kibble

  3. Fetch or Tug

  4. Loose Leash Walking



Long Line Recall


The dog can’t get this one wrong, that is why we start with it. The dog may want to go running toward the distraction but with the rope you can say “This way” and make the dog follow you.


Some dogs you have to keep pulling for quite a ways. The majority follow pretty quick with the average being about 3-5 tugs on the rope while you walk the opposite direction.


As the dog follows for a bit we turn around and go back toward the distraction. The dog may run to the distraction and we may say “Hold up” and then “This way” and tug the line again. Each time the dog tends to follow you a bit sooner and with less tugs.


This ties closely into Recall training. Check out the article on Recall for further help.



Sits and Downs for Kibble


This works well because we only feed the dog their kibble when they are doing sits or downs with the distraction present at an acceptable distance. Many dogs don’t want to work for their kibble right away and that is fine, just wait a bit longer and try again. Most dogs will work for it on Day 1 or beginning of Day 2. We have had some go till Day 3 before they decided they were hungry enough to focus on you.


Also keep in mind the A to B Rule, sometimes doing a sound recording of the distraction such as dogs barking is an easier step than being in the presence of dogs barking. Never underestimate how much smaller of a step you can break things down into.


Most dogs, this works great right from the beginning. They will ignore the distraction right away and focus on you.


Example: We use chickens as a distraction training tool. We bring the dogs over on the long line and practice doing a few recall commands. Then we go close to the chickens again in which the dog is pretty interested in the chickens. Waving a piece of food in front of their nose often turns the dog to you and they begin ignoring the chickens as if they weren’t even there. Not all dogs will focus on the food right away but the vast majority will. The ones that don’t often start to do well after a day or two of not getting their meal for free at home.


We often make the dog work 2-3 weeks for their meals while we continue to increase distractions.



Fetch or Tug


If you are lucky enough to have a fetch or tug crazy dog, training can be quite simple. You can use the long line around a distraction to ensure your dog can’t run toward the distraction. Playing fetch or tug around the distraction helps teach your dog to ignore the distraction and focus on you.


This technique is often used by Search and Rescue, Police Dogs and other working dogs. The dog is on a mission to do their job and when they have completed their job they get to play with their favorite toy.


Take a look at the articles on Fetch and Tug to learn how to build drive for these games.



Loose Leash Walking (Heel)


This is the hardest one to do and often requires a lot of work. Omegas are easy and people often don’t have to do much or any distraction training work with these dogs as these dogs like being with their owners, they naturally follow and they don’t try to greet outside dogs and people first.


Betas and Alphas are the ones that require a lot more Distraction Training. As a part of the Pack Structure Rule: Greeting, the dog thinks they have the right to greet first. This is why they often want to run off and engage other dogs, people, animals and smells.


Take a look at the article on Loose Leash Walking to learn how to train this.


Using the A to B Rule


The A to B Rule was really created for Distraction Training. The dog listens at a low distraction and close distance, but as soon as you increase distraction or distance the dog will make mistakes.


Key Tip:


We have found it is easiest to start at a low distraction level training something like Sit and Down. This would typically be done inside the person’s house.


Next increase Distance from the dog at that low level distraction (in the house). Once the dog is performing well at a distance you then increase:


Distractions - Go to a Level 2 distraction (Backyard, although some people’s backyards are super distracting with dogs on either side so go somewhere more quiet like a green space). Something that is slightly more distracting than where you started. Usually you have to come back close to the dog to get them to focus on you. Then you increase Distance again.


Using a tie-out point is very valuable. This way the dog can’t run toward the distraction and they can’t run toward you. They have to stay where they are and think about doing the command you are asking.


Climbing the A to B Rule


That is the pattern you go: low distraction, increase distance, increase distraction, increase distance, etc. Keep doing that until you have reached your Goal Level.


Remember: A dog will almost always make mistakes when you increase distance or distraction. If a person expects training to go really smooth and easy, they will get very frustrated. Expect the dog to make mistakes when you jump up levels of distance or distraction. Sometimes when you jump up a level it can seem like you have done no training whatsoever because the dog is not even close to paying attention or following through. Keep persisting. If need be use the A to B Rule and break it down into a smaller step. Quite often people try to jump too high a level of distraction.


People often want to know what levels they should jump to and we can’t always provide that answer as we don’t always know ourselves. When we train a dog we guesstimate a good distraction level and that might be too difficult so we either move further away from the distraction or decrease the intensity of the distraction (ie. An aggressive dog barking is much more distracting than a small playful dog barking).


Important Note:


We have found that whatever level you train a dog to as a distraction, they will tend to get it right about 70-80%. That means the dog is still getting it wrong 2-3 times out of 10 which can still be fairly frustrating.


This is where we implemented the Super Proofing Rule. That is where you continue training passed your Level B Goal. You go to a higher level of Distraction and Distance than you expect to encounter in everyday life. This helps ensure your dog gets your Goal Level 100%


Example: For Super Proofing, we will practice recall in fields where there are rabbits everywhere, around chickens, dogs playing, squirrels, etc. If you can call a dog back to you in those high level distractions then everyday life is a piece of cake.


We practice sit and down to a distance of 250 meters. That way anything 50 meters and less seems like a piece of cake for the dog.


Why We Developed Super Proofing


When we did Board and Train, clients would list their goals for their dog. We would begin training and in 2-3 weeks the dog would be doing their commands at the goal level. The problem we found is that they would do it 70-80% and we figured the people still wouldn’t be happy if the dog got it wrong 2-3 times out of 10.


A key thing we noticed was now at an easier Level (let’s say Level 5), the dog would get it 100% and when we were first at Level 5, they would only get it 70-80%. We thought if we kept going above Level B that it would help ensure the dog got Level B 100%. Sure enough, worked like a charm.


Super Proofing is a lot of fun. The problem is it is contagious. Now the dog will start doing this really high level 70-80% and you wished they would do it 100%. So you start Super Proofing your Super Proof level.


How Long Should Distraction Training Take?


For the average dog, providing the person is following all Pack Structure Rules, exercising the dog enough and providing mental stimulation, it will take around 3 - 4 weeks to have the dog doing very well with distractions.


If the dog was socialized in the manner that is most popular in North America it can add a few more weeks or months to training.


If the dog has any aggression or severe fear issues it is often 9 months as a minimum and often more of a 1-2 year venture. If the dog is a lower ranking dog naturally they do well very quickly. If they are a high level Beta or Alpha then it is extremely important that the people follow all Pack Structure Rules for the rest of the dog’s life.


Even doing so, you are more or less managing the dog their entire lives and still being careful with which distractions you bring them around.


Example: If there was a dog aggressive dog that got into severe fights and a person spent 1-2 years rehabilitating them, you still wouldn’t want to practice recall in an off-leash park with a bunch of other strange dogs. That is kind of like having a person with a gambling and drinking problem that has gotten over their addictions and to celebrate you take them to Vegas for 2 weeks to check out all the Casinos with free mini bars.


Recognizing a Pattern Yet?


After reading this article you may see why we recommend getting a dog that is naturally suited for the task at hand. Socializing them in the manner we laid out also helps increase the chance for success.


You can take a dog that has a problem with a certain distraction and even after a few hundred hours of training they still may not be as good as a dog that is naturally good around that distraction.


Summary


The Distraction Training Process is simple: low distraction, increase distance, increase distraction, increase distance, etc.


In real life it is not so easy. It can be a lot of work and in some cases be more hours than a person has available to work with the dog. The toughest cases are when a person is trying to distraction train a dog in which the dog has been bred for many generations to be very interested in the distraction.


Example: A person may have a guardian dog that is aggressive to people and want to have that dog be good with all strangers. That is not unlike taking Michelangelo and making him be a data analyst. Michelangelo was super gifted as an artist. Could he be a data analyst? Maybe. A great data analyst? There is a possibility. But we know for sure he would have been an awesome artist.


Stay persistent and use the Core Rules we have laid out to help you. You may even create some new ones of your own that will help make breakthroughs in the world of Dog Training. Act as if you cannot fail. If we keep putting our minds together, the sky is the limit.


So with that we end: There is a bit of current reality finished off with “Screw reality, limits were made to be broken!” Let us know any ideas you have for overcoming distractions with a difficult dog.