A Deep Dive into Dog Training’s Three D’s: Distance, Duration, and Distractions
By Joan Hunter Mayer
We live in a distracting world, and it can be the same for our pet dogs! We expect a lot from them – ignore that smell, leave that pile of garbage alone, pay no mind to that barking dog behind the fence. It can be hard for your dog to focus on training when the world is so very interesting. That’s why we recommend training in 3-D. The 3-D training concepts are: Distance, Duration and Distractions.
Let’s take a look at each of these three D’s and how refining them can help in your dog training endeavors!
First consider, how far away can you be from your dog when you cue a behavior and have him still execute that behavior? It may be easy for a dog to come when called, for example, when you’re standing indoors in the same room, but if Fido is 10 or 20 feet away, it’s more challenging.
On the other hand, you’ll also want to ask, how does the amount of space between your dog and a distraction, affect Fluffy’s ability to execute a cued behavior? Sometimes being closer to something can increase the difficulty of a behavior. For instance, the closer she is to a temptation competing for her attention, the more challenging it might be to focus on you and listen to cues. (More on distractions in a moment.)
Distance is a training metric where expecting too much too fast, can risk stalling out your training efforts. But if that happens, it’s okay. Just take a step back (or closer), make things easier, and try again.
Duration is simply the length of time you ask your dog to perform a specific behavior. When you think about it, many of the things we ask dogs to do (i.e., Stay or Wait) are behaviors that we would like them to start, and then keep doing until cued to stop.
Similar to distance, duration is something that needs to be worked on slowly, second by second. Also, remember to use a cue, like “you’re free,” to clearly release your dog from the behavior each time. Consistency is key.
Now, let’s circle back around to where we started – distractions. For training sessions to be successful, dogs need to be aware and present. So, consider the following:
- Initially, when teaching a new behavior, arrange the training session in an area with fewer distractions. For example, when practicing loose leash walking, it makes sense to start training in a quiet area inside the home. (Unless your home is like an amusement park.)
- Do your best to be aware of the distractions around your dog at all times and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- In addition to having your dog’s undivided attention, pet parents also need to be aware and present! If we expect a certain degree of engagement from our inquisitive canines, we need to show them the same respect. That might require you to rethink your training plan and schedule and make adjustments. (Close the laptop, put your phone away, turn off the television.)
- Distractions are everywhere, and so it’s important to gradually incorporate controlled distractions into your training.
By now, you’ve probably noticed, what the 3-D training concepts all have in common is that gradual change here is critical to success. So, if you and your inquisitive canine are struggling to reach you training goals, it might help to think about how you can revise your teaching plan by adjusting distance, duration, and/or distractions.
Remember, for behaviors your dog is already skilled at, only increase the difficulty once they’ve excelled at the easier level. When you’re making one of the 3D variables harder, it helps to make the others easier, or at least leave them the same. So, if you’re adding distance to your recall, make sure the distraction level is lower than, or comparable to, what it has been. If you’re upping the duration of a requested Stay, do so in a less distracting area first. And if you’re working on more challenging distractions, don’t expect as much duration from your canine pupil. Self-control can be a limited resource!
We hope this deep dive into training concepts empowers you to seek pawsitive, practical solutions to everyday challenges and enhance the bond you have with your inquisitive canine!
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!