“Distractions should inspire your dog to work harder.”
I heard Sue Ailsby say that at a seminar once, and those words now cross my mind every time I work with a dog.
Think about that. What if distractions increased your dog’s motivation for the task at hand? What if distractions were welcomed challenges? What if distractions brought you and your dog closer? Distraction training would go from something you have to do to something you want to do, while improving your relationship with your dog.
Accomplishing this isn’t difficult, but a change in approach and perspective may be necessary.
I work small, controlled distractions into training whenever I can. I want my dog to become accustomed to success. I only ask what is reasonable for her at that time in that context.
I did a little of this with a piece of the dumbbell retrieve a few days ago. I asked Tootsie, “will you still pick up your dumbbell even if something of greater value appears to be immediately accessible?”
I put down her dumbbell and someone offered her a treat a few feet away from it. If she chose the dumbbell, I reinforced with a treat. If she chose to go for the treat, I would have either waited for her to go to the dumbbell (the person with the treat was instructed to not actually give it to her), tried again, or stopped the training session. But I didn’t have to do that; I set the parameters such that they were challenging, but achievable.
This is what it looked like:
Note that I did not set up formally for the dumbbell retrieve or ask for her to return it to hand. I only looked for her to choose the dumbbell over the treat. As soon as her decision was obvious, I reinforced. One may be concerned that terminating the behavior before completion (returning it to hand) could result in dropped dumbbells, etc. down the road. And while that may be a valid concern for many dogs, I don’t worry about that with Tootsie. The reason for that is another topic for another day.