This exercise aims to help you understand the process of taking the basic behaviours we are establishing well at home and make sure your young dog will respond away from home, without food in your hands and under distraction.
We're going to look at a really important concept in dog training, which is something called dog distraction training or ‘proofing’.
Proofing is your cure for the issue:
“My dog listens really well and is perfect at home but won't listen at all once we're outdoors!”
It's helpful to understand that dogs that don't listen outdoors usually do listen pretty well at home. They aren't being naughty or even stubborn when they're outdoors. They simply struggle to understand the cues or signals we give them when we change the context in which those cues are given and especially so if there are distractions around.
When learning a behaviour, dogs take note of their entire environment and associate the behaviour with that environment. When the environment changes, they are often no longer sure of the behaviour that's being asked of them and all dogs find it harder to be obedient when there are distractions around.
The solution is to teach in one context, then teach exactly the same thing in another context, one that's slightly more challenging and to repeat this training over and over again raising the bar a little each time. For example, you might teach your dog to lie down in one room, then in different rooms in the house, then in your garden. Then repeat the training in a quiet corner of a large park well away from others. Then repeat in a quiet street then a busier one until your dog can eventually do it in a busy bustling public place with distractions everywhere.
Dog distraction training is all about teaching a dog to be obedient no matter what is going on around him and it's achieved by creating artificial training scenarios where you personally have control over the level of distraction and of the dog's response to the distraction.
Good dog training programs introduce this type of training early on as soon as some basic behaviours are established. We focus on getting this right with limited distractions from the start, and only building up the difficulty when your puppy is ready.
To help us understand further, let’s think about an example:
The obedient dog -
The dog, let's call him Flint who recalls very smartly away from other dogs might well be described as obedient. However, it's not the rational obedience that we expect from people. It's simply that his owner has put in the time and effort into training him to respond in a particular way and under those specific circumstances. He has been specifically trained to recall reliably away from other dogs.
The disobedient dog -
If you put Flint in front of a bolting rabbit or in a field of sheep, he may fail to recall entirely. Many people would then describe Flint as being disobedient, whereas in fact, he was simply not trained to cope with that particular situation.
Always try to remember, no matter how frustrating it may seem, dogs don't choose to be disobedient. They're simply not that complex. If you want your dog to come when you call him when other dogs are in sight, you will need to specifically train your dog for this skill. You cannot expect a dog that has learned to recall in an empty field to continue to do so when another dog appears. He might come back and he might not - the only way to be sure he does is to train for it.
And so we aim to deliberately set up situations where you can ensure that your dog responds to your cues in the presence of the distractions that you want him to ignore.
Always remember distraction training is not about teaching the basic behaviours. If you can't get your dog to sit, down, stay, etc when conditions are ideal then go back a few steps and work on that more first.
How to tell if you're ready for distraction training:
If you're not sure if a behaviour you've trained is ready for distraction training, then take this simple test.
If so, that's great and you're ready to get started and use this behaviour with distractions present.
However, if your dog wandered around first or needed many cues, you have a basic training problem and you need to go back and retrain that behaviour first.
The Golden Rule is: do not use a behaviour in distraction training if your dog cannot perform it easily and reliably under pristine conditions and while you're holding food.
Take this test for each behaviour that you would like to use in your distraction training this week. In the accompanying video I am using a hand touch behaviour for Jim which is a nice easy behaviour and a good one for you to start with. When you start this type of training do focus on one behaviour only for just a few minutes. If you’d like to work on another behaviour do that in a separate session.
Each task should be repeated until your dog is successful at least 80% of the time and your dog should be bright, eager to train and having fun!