A dog who’s been taught to listen well, even in the presence of distractions seems like an amazing feat. Impossible? No way! It’s simply a matter of planning and learning about your dog, then using the things they find valuable to build reinforcement and value in distracting situations.
To teach your dog good listening skills in the face of distraction:
Make a list of your dogs 5 favourite reinforcers and rank them in order from highest value to lowest:
1 – steak
2 – cheese
3 – liver
4 – tug toy
5 – tennis ball
Now make a list of the dogs toughest distractions to contend with and rank them in order from toughest to easiest:
1 – other dogs
2 – kids
3 – people
4 – food
5 – open areas to run
Now match up the numbers to use in training situations. For example, if you are headed off to dog school, you wouldn’t bring the tennis ball as it is your dog’s least favourite reinforcer. The value of another dog will trump the value of the tennis ball. Arm yourself with steak (1) when you are headed into a situation where you will have to deal with your dog’s toughest distraction, other dogs (1). If you are going to pick up your child from school where there will be other kids, this still requires a strong reinforcer, but number 2 on your lists should be a good match for each other. Arm yourself with cheese to help build reinforcement value for focusing on you despite the presence of a strong distraction like kids.
Remember that every dog is different. You’ll have to make lists that match your dog. Repetition builds success, so practice often and have fun!