Ask the Experts: Distraction Training for Your Dog

May 19, 2017

Q. My dog has a hard time focusing on commands when we are at the park or out in public. Do you have any tips that we can work on to correct the distractions?

A. I believe and defend the mentality, ‘every dog has a potential.’ A dog trainer’s objective is finding the method to unlock that potential; whether I need the dog to utilize their nose to find an odor or utilize their body to assist with a task or activity. The biggest challenge any dog handler will face is keeping their dog focused on the task at hand. Distractions come in all types and forms, but usually as an object of interest. So, the question becomes, how do I keep my dog focused?

It all begins with the first command you teach. Their name should be a predatory notification, which you are addressing them and need their focus on you/object.

Step by Step

Teach a puppy or new dog their name as if you are training a toddler.
1. Gain their attention using an object of interest (treat, toy, etc.)
2. Lure them to your focal point (forehead, open palm) and mark their behavior with the command (Norman, Watch;, etc.)
3. Reward (YES!, Good!, etc.).*This is also a frequent use of clicker training. Utilize a clicker to replace a word or reduce the time of reinforcement and without the need for a tangible reward.

I usually spend the first 1-3 weeks working puppies on focus work independently; then I begin introducing variables and minor distractions, but always expecting the dog to perform the same way. If they make a mistake, we start at the beginning or the last successful stage.

Timing, Consistency, Repetition

To ‘proof’ the understanding of a command, your dog should consistently perform after prompted/commanded. 90% of the time. Teach each command as an individual task. Work on a command 100+ times before moving onto the next. Seem like a lot? Practice four to six repetitions in a session. Repeat this session, three or four times each day. After a week, you have completed the task over 100 times! Train your dog the same way, every time, all the time.

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