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The 3D's of Dog Training: Distance, Duration and Distractions

Updated on July 6, 2013
Dogs benefit from the 3D's of Dog Training
Dogs benefit from the 3D's of Dog Training | Source
The three D's of dog training can take your training to the next level!
The three D's of dog training can take your training to the next level! | Source

Why Implement the 3D's of Dog Training?

If you want to bring your dog's training to the next level, you need to learn more about the 3D's of dog training. Many owners who complain about their dogs not listening, dogs that do well in their quiet living room and pose a deaf ear when taken on walks, may be missing out on some important things that may help proof their dog's training. Training your dog to respond to you in "real life situations" doesn't require the use of harsh training techniques; rather, it's all about practicing, practicing, practicing, because practice ultimately makes perfect.

So what are the three D's of dog training? They are three important components that will help you attain better results so your dog can respond to you in different contexts. They consist of distance, distractions and duration. Let's take a closer look to each of them with some tips on how to implement each so you can advance in your dog's training.

*Note: while the 3D's are common in dog trainer, they can also be applied to behavior modification. We will address behavior modification as well in this article.

Distractions: Me and Kaiser practicing Rally-o in a yard full of chicken!

D stands for Distractions

Yes, those distractions can really put a dent in your dog's training and are one of the main causes of why dogs cannot focus when outdoors. If your dog does well when you train him in the living room but then on walks he seems to be in another world, don't blame him; most likely he just needs to be trained more under distractions. After all, us humans are also often distracted. How many times are we surfing the web, only to end up on a page we really didn't mean to be in the first place? Most likely some ad or some "teaser" caught your attention and made you drift away.

What distracts dogs? It can be anything! The smell of tasty treats you are trying to hide, the sight of another dog, a sudden noise or a leaf that fell on your dog's back and startled him. Distractions can involve all senses, touch, sight, scent, taste and hearing. They are inevitable and trying to avoid them is impossible. Since there's not much you can do about it, unless you train your dog in an empty room, you're better off training your dog to deal with them.

The key to help your dog cope with distractions is to let him deal with them gradually, one step at a time. Flooding your dog with distractions all at once is counter-productive and can lead to over-sensorial overload with the end result of a dog who is over threshold and cannot cognitively function.

So you want to make sure your dog has a rock solid sit in the home before trying to train it in the back yard, and you want a rock solid sit in the back yard before you ask for a sit on a walk, and then you want a rock solid sit on your walk before you ask for a sit at the dog park. When people ask me if they can train their dogs on their own, I tell them that yes, it is possible, but they will need to expose their dog to all sorts of distractions and teach their dogs how to behave around other dogs.

Embrace distractions! When I was training my dogs, I wasn't avoiding distractions but was actually seeking them out. I loved challenges and I voluntarily embraced them. I used to train my dogs with all sorts of distractions around, including cats, chicken and dogs. In the video on the right, you can see me and Kaiser practicing Rally-o off leash in a yard full of chicken. Note how I talk to him a lot to make myself more salient than the distractions and keep him motivated. I also used to take my dogs along to busy markets, pet stores and children playgrounds just for the thrill of training them in those environments.

Anytime you notice your dog is too distracted to obey, acknowledge what triggered his loss of focus and then prepare a strategic plan to expose him to a smaller representation of that distraction. For instance, if your dog cannot focus if children are playing with a ball within 10 feet, try at 20 feet next time and then progress from there. As a dog trainer, I can attest that the main reason why many dogs can't progress in training is because of some sort of distraction that is interfering with the dog's ability to concentrate. However, consider though that distractions can also be internal; meaning that a dog who is not feeling well or is too emotional isn't in the best state of mind for learning to take place.

In behavior modification, distractions are also added very gradually through desensitization. If a dog is reactive towards guests , we would record the doorbell sound and play it a lower volume so he can get used to this distraction and feel less compelled to bark. Once the dog can hear the sound played at normal volume, further distractions can be added such as guests. Best results are attained by adding counter-conditioning.

Distance: Petra, Kaiser Distance Recall

D Stands for Distance

Distance plays a primarily role especially when you are training distance commands. As with distractions, distance must be built on very gradually. If you are training a stay, you will start by asking your dog to stay with you just a small distance away. If you walk away too far, most likely your dog will break the stay and you will need to work from a closer distance. Most dogs who haven't been ever trained to obey to a sit or lie down from a distance, will not sit and lie down on command. Give it a try; ask your dog to sit from across a room and see if he complies. Let me know then in the comment section what happened.

Distance is also built when training recalls. You first start calling your puppy from a small distance and then from a greater distance. If you are planning on training your dog sits and downs from a distance, you would first make sure your dog obeys to them from a small distance and then build up from there.

In behavior modification, distance is important as dogs often have space issues. If you are too close to the trigger, the dog may be reactive; if you are farther away, you have better chances he'll be able to cognitively function.

Duration: Petra, Kaiser and our Guest Staying at the Table for the Duration of meal time


D Stands for Duration

For how long can your dog sit, lie down and stay? Many dog owners make their obedience commands very brief. They ask a sit, reward and a second later the dog is already romping around again. I learned about duration when I first started training under the studentship of another trainer who was fond of using release commands.

I wasn't familiar about release commands until I met this trainer. Prior to that, I trained dogs to sit, marked the sit with a "good boy" delivered the treat and then the dog was automatically free to move about again. I soon realized the giving the treat became a cue that to the dog meant "it's OK to move around again." I saw this in attention heeling as well. Dog owners asked their dog to heel, praised and delivered the treat. As soon as the dog ate the treat, the dog was back to pulling as if the treat was not really there to reward, but more to signal that the exercise of heeling was over.

Release commands are therefore there to build duration. They build an automated "stay" in sits and stays. The most common release command used is often "OK". However, choose your release command wisely unless you don't mind your dog breaking his stay every time somebody says the popular word OK.

So if you ask a dog to sit, you would mark the sit with a good boy, give a treat and then say "OK" to release from the command. The dog therefore distinguishes that the treat is there to reward for sitting and the OK is there to tell the dog that the exercise is done. With time, the treat can be removed gradually and the OK can become the reward as most dogs don't like to sit forever.

As with distance and distraction, duration must be introduced gradually. You would start with a stay of a few seconds and then increase to minutes and build on there. My dogs are trained to stay for the entire duration of our meal time and then are released when their meal is ready. This has become a habit of second nature, indeed, as soon as we sit at the table our dogs automatically lie down.

In behavior modification, you also need to add duration gradually to prevent set backs. Way too many people are often very enthusiastic of results attained in one session, they are often tempted to try for just a little more. I always recommend to not overdo things in the initial, critical stages--best to keep a session brief but with a success in your pocket than doing a longer session with a failure in your mind and the after thought "if only I wasn't so greedy!"

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.

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