How using distractions can improve your dog’s reliability

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Distractions are an important part of training your dog. A distraction can be anything in the environment that causes your dog not to focus on you.

Distractions are an important part of training your dog. A distraction can be anything in the environment that causes your dog not to focus on you. It can be people, places, toys, food, odors, sounds—whatever your dog finds distracting.

Below is a list of situations that your dog may find distracting.  The higher the distraction, the more likely your dog may not listen to you.

Rate the distractions on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the most distracting to your dog.

For the next week, please make a point of having your dog on a lead at all times when he is around any distractions that are a level 2 or greater.  This will help you maintain more control over the situation.  Avoid any level 10 distractions when first working on a new behavior or when polishing a behavior.  Use these and other distractions in all your training of behaviors. This will help “proof” your dog.

Example: You have trained the sit in the living room where guests and family enter the front door.  You command your dog to “sit,” and he complies, but the door opens, and up he pops.  Now we need to start training him for such distractions.


  • If you have two dogs, try this one. Have them both sit. Now call one at a time to you.  The one not called must stay in a seat, while the other one comes to you.
  • If you have a cat, repeat the above exercise, but call the cat instead of either dog.
  • Doorbell ringing
  • Dog sitting for a pet portrait
  • Balls being thrown or rolled
  • Squirrels, cats, birds, horses, rabbits, sheep, chickens, cows, etc.
  • Bicyclists
  • Another family pet
  • A family member walking/running by
  • Good tasting/smelling things on the ground
  • New environments – different rooms, friend’s backyard
  • A remote-controlled car driving by
  • Stuffed toys
  • At the park with children playing (screaming, laughing, etc.)
  • Other dogs when at the part or out for a walk
  • Food in containers on the floor or a chair
  • Dinner bowl on floor (full or empty)
  • Sprinkler, running water, hose
  • A flying disc or other thrown toys
  • A delivery man or mailman walking by
  • Opening a door, gate, or car door
  • A loud bang or popping noise
  • Crumbled up paper being thrown
  • Two people playing ball

Exercises to Try

Leave it

Place distractions rated from 5-10 on the floor. Give the leave-it command and walk your dog through them. Praise your dog when he avoids the objects and correct your dog when he attempts to take the object, reinforcing the command “leave it” afterward.


Weave your dog around objects or in places where he is distracted. The heel helps focus your dog while in motion.

Sit and Down

If your dog is distracted, give the sit command and enforce it.  Once he is in a down, give the sit command and enforce it. Repeat for several repetitions.

Sit in Motion

Practice sit in motions through doorways.

Final Note

Consistency = Success.  By working through a situation with your dog instead of avoiding the situation, you will build confidence in your dog.  In turn, your dog will become more reliable with commands.  This will help “proof” your dog.

Their life may depend on it.

Let’s talk dogs, or even better, let’s learn about dogs.  Set aside some time to receive Spike’s dog blogs by Acme Canine.

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