Friday, March 11, 2022

Training Around Distractions

Adolescent dogs often struggle most with distractions that are beyond our control.  This can be other people and/or dogs we meet while out on a walk, wild animals or pets that pop up unexpectedly, or any of a million other things that our dogs might react to.  However this is NOT the place we want to start with training sessions. 

If you want to help your dog succeed around distractions, you first have to teach them the skills to succeed on a no or low distraction environment.  All training should start at home!  There are a ton of games you can play to help teach your dog the skills they need to succeed while increasing your skills as a team.  We are going to be going over lots of these games in the FAD Mini-workshop that is quickly approaching!  If you haven't registered already, please do so here.

For this post, I'm going to be going over the importance of practicing around distractions you can control or manage more effectively as well as some tips for arranging those training sessions for success.  Since Azul's biggest distraction, as with many others, is other dogs, my examples are going to focus on working with other dogs.  These same tips can be applied to nearly any distraction you can manage.

Reach out to friends and family members with dogs first that are willing to practice with you as your run through various exercises and training.  You can use the same few dogs for multiple training sessions until your dog is catching on to the exercises and is able to respond to your directions around those same dogs.  Then you can repeat the exercises with additional dogs in your neighborhood.  When I was new to a community without knowing lots of people with other dogs, I reached out to local 4-H groups and dog groomers asking for people who wanted to meet up to practice similar skills with their dogs.  And that's how I met the first participants in my Focus Around Distractions Group Class that I now teach twice a year.

If you do not live local, you can register for my Crazy Adolescents Classroom to learn about the FAD Exercises I use.  This classroom will be released at the end of March!

Distance from distractions.

When it comes to conducting training sessions around dogs or other distractions, distance is your best friend!  Out an a walk, with an unexpected distraction, it can be hard to work at a safe distance where your dog is finding it easier to follow your cues.  But it practice sessions with other controlled dogs, you can work at whatever distance is needed for success whether that is 20 ft away or 200 ft away from the dog.  The importance of the exercises is to work at a distance that keeps your dog from over-reacting and with time you slowly reduce that distance.  I try to work at exercises until I can have a calm dog at my side with another dog about 6 ft away from us without any extreme reactions or need to interact with that other dog.  

If your dog is fearful or anxious, you might have a larger distance between dogs as your target goal.  That's where I shoot for reducing the distance we start at by half.  When Cam first came to our house he was sent over threshold by a dog at over 200 yards away from us because he was so fearful that other dog was going to attack him.  So my first goal was to help Cam work up to being 100 yards away from another dog.  As you can imagine, this took quite a large field to do this training in!  Along with that, I want my dog to be successful doing 2 skills with the other dog at that distance; sitting calmly to watch the other dog and walking nicely on leash while in sight of the other dog.  We'd switch back and forth from sitting and feeding high value treats for looking towards me and away from the other dog back to walking back and forth in sight of the other dog and rewarding for keeping the leash relaxed.  Once you master these 2 skills, you can start adding in any other cues your dog knows to the training sessions and slowly begin working your way closer.  This same type of training session can be applied to dog that is over-exited wanting to play with the distraction dog however since fear isn't involved you generally can make progress much faster and add in additional cues much faster.

Teamwork skills

With the overall goal of this type of training session being that your dog finds it easier to focus on you more then the distraction, increasing your value as someone your dog wants to be with is super important.  I want my dogs to choose me over distractions in the environment, not be forced to stay with me when they really want to go party somewhere else.  Do you remember being a teenager, not wanting to spend time with your parents because you'd rather go hang with your friends?  Adolescent dogs who are social, often struggle with this because their friends are simply so much more fun.  By using games during your training sessions, you increase your value and help your dog make the easy choice of wanting to be with you.  This again, is based on working at a distance that you make that choice EASY!  And you match your dog's energy level so that you become the most exciting thing in their world.  Dog trainers around the world have developed hundreds of games to help teach this.  I'm going to be demonstrating some of my favorite games in the FAD Mini-Workshop each day, and so will my co-host Cindy Campbell.

Part of my Focus Around Distractions Class is teaching people who to determine which games will work best for their dog.  Since dog's choice what they like best, we can increase their chance of success if we learn what motivates them the most.  For Cam, that's a tennis ball.  For Azul that's typically tug or chase games (not using a ball), especially using his flirt pole. However, we can't just chuck a ball or carry a flirt pole around with us 24/7 for those unexpected distractions.  But we can increase our game base to include games that teach the concepts we will use in our training sessions with controlled distractions.

FAD Mini-Workshop

Have I got you excited about our FAD Mini-Workshop yet?  I hope so, because it's going to be simply amazing!  I hope you plan on attending as it is free.  We've been fielding a few questions about the workshop, so I'm going to answer a few of those here.

Platforms:
First we are using 2 platforms to make it easy for everyone!  The first would be this website where the resources presented will remain available long after the workshop is over.  The second platform we are using is a Facebook event to make it easier for all those social people who prefer that format.  Both formats will have the exact same info, so you only have to follow one each day not both.  You can choose which ever format works best for you.  The FB Event will only be available during the event though so if you participate there, you may also want to bookmark this blog so you can refer back to the materials after the workshop is complete.

Time of day:  
The workshop is scheduled to be at 8AM Central Time.  However this is just the time of day that the training materials will be released.  You are in no way required to participate at that time!  You can watch and read the materials at any time throughout the day.

If you have any additional questions, let us know.  Cindy and I are happy to help make this workshop successful for everyone!

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