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Getting Your Dog to Ignore the Chaos and Obey Your Commands

If your dog is unaccustomed to compliance in unpredictable, high-pressure situations, his training could fail him when it matters most-in speeding traffic, for instance.

Distractions should be very slight at the beginning of training and gradually increase in degree of challenge. As with training motivators, the nature of distractions should depend on the individual dog. In fact, even things you normally use as motivators or rewards, such as treats, can serve as distracters. But should the treat prove irresistible, it might be better to choose a less-challenging distracter at first.

Build distraction resistance one factor at a time in the early training stages; as your dog gets better at ignoring temptation, he'll be ready for multivariable distractions.

Here's an example:

  • Plato is a mildly food-motivated dog with average-to-high toy drive. The external stimulus will be a flying tennis ball at close range (in the kitchen) for a short period of time.
  • Owner holds Plato on a leash. She throws the ball and, as Plato follows the trajectory, commands Plato to sit. Plato ignores the command and goes off to investigate the toy.
  • Owner calmly walks over, gently takes Plato by the collar, leads her back to the spot where she ignored the “sit” command, and firmly (but not roughly) re-sits the dog.
  • Owner repeats same distraction with the ball. Plato goes off to investigate again. This time the owner is better prepared, with less slack on the leash so Plato can't flee the “sit” spot, despite her obvious intent to do so. Since the first correction wasn't effective, the owner gives a mild tug on the leash as she re-sits and praises the dog.
  • If Plato had not responded to the tug, a gradual escalation would have been indicated. But first a question: Is the chosen distraction simply too stimulating for the dog?
  • If the tennis ball was driving her wild, the owner could have tried placing the ball on the floor instead of throwing it. This could make the exercise easier for Plato to handle. One can always build up the degree of difficulty gradually.
  • Next, her owner must try her in different locations to be sure she understands that “sit” means sit wherever a tennis ball may appear — not just in the kitchen or house.

Individual dogs vary as to their strengths and weaknesses, so train at the pace your dog can handle. Your patience will be rewarded.

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