Transitioning From Non-Distracting to Distracting Environments

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QUESTION:

I love your DVD’s! We have a new puppy (17-week-old terrier mix) that is responding very well. I have a question: Should I try to teach new commands in non-distracting environments and then gradually work them into distracting areas once he’s doing well in calmer areas? He’s great with me, but he really seems to struggle when excited or distracted. I’m wondering if my expectations might be too high for him in busy areas… I’m determined to have a well-behaved dog! Thank you!

 

ANSWER:

Great to read the positive feedback, thank you! Yes, you’re on the right track. Wait until your dog is responding well in non-distracting environments before taking him to places with temptations. When ready, start introducing small then more intense distractions at home first. After this, progress to your immediate local area and then further beyond.

Distraction testing is critical for solidifying your position as pack leader. When your dog defers to you in tempting situations and is willing to abide by the rules and boundaries you set despite his desire to do otherwise, he’s showing respect for you. When this continues, self-governance soon results whereby you don’t even need to say anything to your dog anymore – he’ll control himself of his own accord because he knows and regards what you expect from him.

Start by gradually incorporating distractions in the home and yard such as the following:

  • Doorbell ringing
  • Guests walking in the door
  • Kids playing
  • Other creatures (dogs, cats, rabbits) visiting
  • Leaving food on the coffee table
  • Family BBQ/dinner party
  • Leaving enticing “out-of-bounds” objects (e.g. shoes, kids’ toys) in accessible places
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Whatever else you feel your particular dog would be enticed by

When your dog is consistently responding well (e.g. no barking, no jumping up, no chasing, no stealing food or out-of-bounds items, maintaining commands such as “Down” and “Stay”) to a variety of these home-based distractions, progress to public places such as the local park, the local swimming pond/lake, shopping centers, outside elementary schools, etc. Stay away from dog parks, however. These intense “free-for-all” kinds of environments can have a negative impact on your training progress.

One of the first goals to aim for in public environments is not having your dog get up out of a “Down” position or even walk away with strangers when they talk to him and even pet him, and to also remain in a “Down” position when other dogs approach. Of course, try to ask the other dog’s owner not to get so close that actual physical contact causes your dog to break the command. It’s unfair to expect your dog to maintain a “Down” position when a strange dog is jumping all over him!

Start with short duration “Down/Stay” commands and build up from there. Begin within 30 seconds and gradually increase to 30 minutes. Before testing your dog on longer durations, however, make sure he’s had a recent good quality exercise session. In fact, maintaining a regular, thorough exercise routine for your dog is pivotal to maximizing his training results. It’s unrealistic to expect your dog to fully comply when he’s consistently antsy with built-up energy.

Good on you for being determined to get the most out of your Perfect Dog training! It’s this kind of effort that ensures the best quality of life for dogs – and the most peace of mind and enjoyment for their owners!

– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”

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