Training Your Dog with Distractions

by Ragtimelil

How to get your dog to listen to you when there are more interesting things to investigate.

You've taught your dog basic obedience commands. He can sit, lie down, stay and come when called. He walks quietly on a leash. But as soon as someone comes to visit or you try to take a walk in the park, he suddenly acts as though he never heard these commands before.

Never fear. Your dog is trained, but there is still more work to do. He hasn't learned that he has to obey in new places and around new people and dogs. It takes just a bit more practice but you can soon have a dog who listens to you no matter what is going on around him.

Training with Toys and Treats

WeImpulse Control in Dog can break the training down into three segments. One segment is just generalized impulse control. Will your dog continue to do a sit/stay if you roll a ball past him?
Start by training the sit or down/stay as you did before, but roll a ball some distance away at first. Gradually roll it closer as he gets steadier. Progress to throwing a ball or toy and then his favorite treats. Then you can allow him to play with  the toy or get the treats.

New Locations

new locationsNow you are ready to move outside in a quiet location and practice the same exercises. You can keep the dog on a long line if you don't have a safe area to work. By long line, I mean a long line that drags the ground - not a retractable one. Those are fine for exercising a dog, but are too cumbersome to use for training. I always use a cotton line to prevent rope burn on my hands.

Go to different places over the next few days or weeks. Practice the same exercises that the dog already knows. Soon he'll settle down and focus on you.


Speaking of treats, you might have noticed that your dog will do all of his commands, tricks or whatever training with rewards such as a piece of his everyday kibble but he ignores it when there is something more interesting to investigate. You will need to find a high value treat or toy for him during his training with distractions. It could be a thin slice of hot dog or cheese or a special toy that only is used for rewards during training time. Food is easier to handle because the dog doesn't have to move to get his reward. A toy or game of fetch can be a good reward for the end of a training session.


More Distractions

 Once the dog is obeying in different locations, you can add people. In the video below, the trainer had someone she knew to act as a distraction. You can do that or take the dog to places where there are just a few people at a bit of a distance from you and your dog. Practice sit/stays, down/stays and recalls especially.  If someone wants to pet the dog, practice a sit/stay for petting.  Gradually move closer to the people or have people come closer to your dog.

Now you're ready to add other dogs. Find a walking path with dogs, a dog park or ask friends with dogs to come and help you train. Start with the other dogs at a distance at first and gradually work closer. Obviously, you want to use friendly dogs, not aggressive ones. 
In this video she starts training at home and moves to different locations. Then she does a "set up" with a friend to add distractions. She could have progressed to having a friend with a dog do the same walk-by.

At some point, you might not have a treat handy. If you've practiced diligently, he should still obey. To really wean a dog off of treats, don't stop cold turkey, but vary the times and amount of treats. Gradually ask for more obedience for less treats, but don't forget to reward with praise. When the dog is fully trained, a "good dog" is enough, but if the dog is still in the training mode, always give some sort of reward. Don't be afraid to back up and do some basic skills practice if the dog seems to need it.

The more practice you give your dog in strange surroundings, the steadier he will be. It's something you can add to your daily walks or visits to the dog park. It will enhance your relationship with your dog and strengthen your bond and trust. Give it a try and have fun.

Does Your Dog Obey You When There are Distractions?

Updated: 06/14/2013, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 09/05/2013

You are absolutely right! It is frustrating when others don't see the results of their misbehavior. I had one client who wanted his dog to get on the bed when his wife wasn't home so they could cuddle and watch tv. He wanted the dog to stay off the bed when the wife was home. I had to explain that this only confused the dog and ended up in the dog being punished for doing what he allowed the dog to do.

MaggiePowell on 09/05/2013

I had a sweet Toller who was almost too smart for his own good. Training him was easy, when I did it the RIGHT way (clear, consistant commands with treat rewards). Sadly, the rest of the family let him get away with murder (and he knew it). Rather frustrating!
I could walk with him off leash, and he would stay beside me until I released him, even when other dogs came around. The rest of the family made no attempt to work with him, so he pulled on the leash, jumped on people and was a nuisance.
My take away lesson from this- everyone in the family has to be on-board with the training methods.

Ragtimelil on 06/27/2013

Thanks, Katie. Sounds like you have a really great dog. You are right. You do have to be consistent and not change words - or meanings. One of my big ones in class was using down to mean lie on the floor - and then what would people use when the dog jumped on them? Down, of course....Off is a very handy word.

katiem2 on 06/27/2013

I'm so in love with our new member of the family, her name is Keeva a pit bull mix, the one my daughter got for Christmas. She is so smart. We find these techniques work well, using the same verbal commands or rather (I prefer) speech or words makes it simple. You can't be a confusing human mixing it up all the time. If we veer from the plan she can't stay to task because it is actually we humans who are off task and then wonder why she's not doing what we expect DUH! Dogs are such amazing creatures we are so fortunate to have them in our lives. Great article and very helpful tips.

Ragtimelil on 06/17/2013

Clicker training is great! I think there is something about the sound along with the instant response that really excites my dogs. They love it.

RubyHelenRose on 06/17/2013

I just got a clicker for our dog, gonna try that along with the treats for getting him use to people better, thanks.

Ragtimelil on 06/15/2013

Thanks. Keep us posted. It really works.

fitzcharming on 06/15/2013

I'm going to have to work on these. I voted that my dog(2) are out of control in your poll. Great training tips for the dog owner too ;-)

Ragtimelil on 06/15/2013

Rotties are very smart. They are working dogs and like to do something, even obedience.

dustytoes on 06/15/2013

This sounds like very good advice. Dogs are so easy to please that weaning them off treats for obeying shouldn't be difficult. I don't have dogs now but my Rotty was very smart and learned to obey quickly.

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