Sunday, January 17, 2016

"I'm Not Ignoring You..........I'm Distracted"

In class we talk about 'distractions', these are things that dogs hear, see, feel and smell.  For dogs distractions are a normal part of their day-to-day life and they're happening all the time.  Some distractions are bigger than others, some are fun and exciting, some are scary and some make your dogs pause and/or begin to investigate.

Too often when working with dogs, people assume that their dog is ignoring them, when in fact, the dog is distracted by something else.  Many frustrated pet parents assume that Fido is being disobedient when he won't come away from his squirrel watching to return to you.  Why are we surprised that dogs can't concentrate on more than one thing at a time?  And if the 'other thing' is super are going to have to take the time to train your dog how to handle distractions in a way that you find acceptable.   Slapping labels on dogs such as alpha, disobedient, hard headed and vengeful fail to address the real issue and increase frustration for dogs and their humans. 

Years ago a fellow trainer told me to make myself more interesting than whatever my dog is distracted by.  I have always found this to be true and I would add to that, become an advocate for your dog when they are fearful or unsure, don't become one of the things they are afraid of.  

What are some of the ways a dog can become distracted?

  • They're in class, you would like them to pay attention to you but the dog next to them is 'inviting' them to play
  • The doorbell rings and they can't seem to respond to simple cues
  • They can't ignore other dogs on walks
  • More than one person is asking them to do something at the same time
  • They are training in a new environment............generalization has not happened
  • Something in the environment is making them nervous or anxious
  • Squirrels, leaves blowing, birds flying, kids on bikes, joggers, the list is endless

How do you redirect a distracted dog?
  • teach them attention building skills, looking at you always results in a reward/reinforcement
  • start with low level distractions and gradually increase the level of distraction
  • train 'leave-it' or 'lets go'
  • use behavior modification for situations when your dog is fearful
  • don't label them train them
In class we work continuously on techniques for redirecting distracted dogs.  We don't use force we use redirection, and reinforcement.