Last week you could walk your dog without seeing a soul the entire time – OK, maybe a bird or two. Then voila, an early Spring day brings about people on the move, loose dogs roaming the neighborhood, pheasants and, wait for it….the squirrels! Suddenly Fido turns stupid, forgetting everything he knows. “He won’t listen” is the common complaint I hear from prospective customers. Truth is, if he knows a couple obedience commands, he will listen if you set him up to be successful. Training your dog around distractions is like long division (for those of you who remember that). You need to have a good handle on basic addition and subtraction before first. In fact, distraction training is an intentional part of any good training program and one of the reasons I love group classes. But we humans mistakenly expect what we’ve been practicing this winter in the comfort of our own home, to transpose to “listening” despite a menagerie of distractions confronting our pups. That just won’t happen.
Too much, too fast and being too close to a potent distraction are common culprits of failed “listening” and can compromise the training skills you’ve acquired so far. Every time your dog ignores you, he becomes more practiced at ignoring you. Every time he acts like a ninny around the fun-loving dog walking past him, he learns to behave like a jerk whenever that situation arises. So, start slow, perhaps working in your driveway for 5-10 minutes twice a day, before heading on down the road with Fido. And next time you encounter a squirrel (or other potent distraction), try this: Increase your distance and ask your dog to do something he knows well (like “sit”) followed by a treat (or two). If your dog’s already had a beginner class, signing up for an impulse control class might be just what (you and) you dog needs after a long winter’s nap.