The Baby Bunny Distraction; Working through Distractions in Dog Training

My dog’s obedience is nearly perfect!  I am a dog trainer after all!  When we head out to the training field in my back yard, she is astounding; in my mind I can hear the crowds cheer as she gazes up at me with pure adoration and excitement, immediately executing each command.

Remember when I admitted to being a little lazy when it came to my dogs lately?  Well that work I have been doing is totally paying off…

That is until I take her somewhere other than MY yard and MY training field.

Because I am usually working with other people’s dogs and running dog obedience classes, she doesn’t get much work with other dogs and distractions.

Some dog trainers want you to think they are perfect and they don’t deal with the same problems their clients have, I guess because they think that lessens their client’s respect for them.  But I am all about honesty and admittance and I am here to admit…we all do!  No one is perfect and we all have the same struggles.

So recently I have started training with another group of people; and let’s just say from the outward appearance of my dog’s struggles they might not even know I am a dog trainer.

It is as if my dogs become deaf when we hit that training field and they see other dogs.

They try to convince me they have never heard the word SIT and they will only heel if the vantage point of what everyone else is doing is conducive to the direction we are headed.  Otherwise it is like I have swivel bobble head dogs with ADHD.

Sometimes as I want to crumple up into a ball and blubber.   I think I can see them smirking or outright laughing (as long as their vantage point of what everyone else is doing is conducive to the direction I am crumpled into that ball; otherwise I just have a view of their furry butt cheeks).

But, in all honesty I expect it!  I have been a dog trainer long enough to know that my credentials don’t spare me from the humility only a dog can deliver.

Working through distractions has to be TAUGHT.  It does not matter how impeccable your training is if you can’t count on it in other environments or without a multitude of distractions; unless you will NEVER be taking your dog out of this particular environment.

So, although I KNOW my dog knows “Sit” I almost have to go back to square one, with patience (this is key) and TEACH her “Sit” again amongst distractions.

You see, dogs don’t think like we humans do.  Sit means sit no matter where you are to us people.  But in your little dog’s mind: “Sit” means “Sit in the backyard” or in the house.  They need to be taught in all types of environment in order to begin to generalize that Sit means Sit EVERYWHERE.

Competition Requires Even More Rigorous Training

Backing up and retraining your dog in a number of environments will be faster, because your dog already has the foundation of knowing the basics command.   But, you must back up and be patient or this stage is liable to be frustrating for you both and take longer.  This is often the point that a person “gives up” on his dog because of the social humiliation and thinking the dog is being belligerent.

I have used this comparison before but I will use it again; it would be like taking a 6 or 7  year old child to the zoo and having them do Math or English homework.  Do they know how to do it?  YES, but is that environment conducive to LEARNING?  No.

Try to look at it from your dog’s point of view: they finally get some “social interaction” and you expect them to do something tedious and boring!

All you need to do is give yourself enough space in between people and other dogs and go back to learning and having fun!  You must be more exciting and FUN than the distractions that are going on for your dog to give up the distraction and enjoy working with you.  Eventually you can move closer and closer to the distractions and use the same principles.

Once you have conquered one new distraction or environment, it is time to add another environment or more distractions!

Move slowly, but by doing so with positive reinforcement and fun you are setting yourself up for that flawless, enviable obedience you so desire.

Cut Yourself a Break

We all struggle!  Even National Dog Obedience competitors have set this same basic foundation!

And, understand there are sometimes uncontrollable distractions; like baby bunnies.

When I was at training on Sunday, there were probably 4 of us on the field, all with dogs at different stages in their obedience.

I think I was in that crumpled ball sobbing or my dog was staring at me out of confusion because she barely noticed the baby bunnies as they emerged and scampered across the field.

Now, no one really trains for this scenario (unless you are training assistance or working dogs) but one of the dogs broke his stay.  He is about 2 and has good quality obedience but is still new and in the learning stages.

One of the obedience trainers chastised the owner, that her dog broke his stay and then that she wasn’t loud enough and he didn’t instantly come back.  But in all reality, that is ridiculous.  Even dogs at the highest level of titling and competition would likely brake to pursue a band of baby bunnies scuttled across the field.  I was just lucky.

Sometimes things happen that you just can’t control, whereas you can try to set up more and more difficult scenarios and train for many situations you must remember your dog is a DOG and he will make mistakes no matter how many titles he has or how flawless his obedience is otherwise!

Just do your best to add as many distractions as possible and train in as many places as possible and you will reap the rewards of a well trained dog!


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  1. Jill Kirk says:

    Wow… thank you for this article and its honesty!
    It is great to be reminded of the fact that your dog is still a dog and other people, professionals included, face the same scuttling bunnies that you do.

    I am an animal trainer myself with a dog that is incredibly obedient… most of the time. I recently had two kids in two years and he is wonderful with them, but he has not gotten the attention that he needs or deserves where training in concerned.

    He has become an escape artist chasing after the cats that live next door. He gets out of the backyard sometimes and just runs after them and probably other things as well. He does well on a leash but when he sees another animal he still gets very excited. It is a terrific idea to go to many different places and have short training sessions.

    You are so very right that patience is key and your dog will humble you as an animal trainer. Great hearing about your dog and I love the picture with the bunny on the dog’s head… priceless!


    Minette Reply:

    I think its funny cause dog trainers want you to think them and their dogs are perfect 😉 but I know better and I am proud to admit we face our challenges too!

    I hope you are excited to get back into training a bit even after having 2 kids 😉 You and your dog will love getting back into the grove!


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