What is a distraction? Most would say it is something that pulls our dog’s attention away from us ultimately causing them to stop listening. Yes, for the most part that is true if we are looking at distractions in a general way. “Squirrel!” is the joke most of us use when we talk about losing focus, like a dog would, when something catches our attention when we are doing something. When I talk about a distraction with my clients I feel “squirrel” is a fun and appropriate way to describe it. However, a good trainer will dig deep to dissect, and find out what type of “squirrels” are in your life. Distractions come in many different shapes and sizes and are completely different for each family. Apartment living, city living or living in a residential neighborhood all present different “squirrels.” Some distractions come in the form of sounds, motions, reactive dog-to-dog interactions, human interactions, fear-related behavior, etc. These are all distractions that can pull even the best-behaved dog out of focus.
Safely and purposely putting distractions in front of our dogs is an important part of training. We do not want to just walk up to another dog and hope for the best. That is crazy right. I have encountered many dog owners allowing their dogs to run up on a dog saying “my dog is friendly” without any regard to the other maybe “not so friendly or scared” dog. It can be a disaster waiting to happen. We must advocate for our dogs and allow distractions into their lives so they can learn to deal with them, but we need to also protect them and allow them to feel safe when we are doing so. Our trust relationship with our dogs is vital in working on distractions and reactivity towards specific distractions. If our dogs do not trust us enough to feel safe, distraction work is pointless and could lead to other behavioral problems such as guarding and fear aggression.
Through our evaluation process in our A to Z Day Training program, which begins with an in-depth questionnaire to learn about pet parents’ training goals, we begin to understand what may be the distractions we need to work on. Once we meet the dog, we test those theories to see what distractions may require our focus. We are fortunate to have a facility where we can provide varying distractions to our students to help them move forward. Our staff, from management, to reception and our daycare, enrichment counselors and trainers are all highly skilled in working with dogs when training for distraction work. We are excited to meet you and your dog and be a partner in your dog’s training journey! Learn more about our A to Z Day Training program here!
Written by Maria Stouffer, CPDT, Training Director at Playful Pups Retreat and Owner of Full Potential Dog Training