Distraction Exercises

Lay distractions on the floor in your living room. Try an open potato chip bag, a used wrapper, or a paper towel. Bring your dog into the room on his leash and training collar. Tug the leash (if necessary) and say NO if he focuses more on the object than on you (review the exercise on page 84).

Next, increase the level of floor distractions. Add some bits of food or another pet. Work through the commands SIT, DOWN, HEEL, and COME, correcting any lack of focus with the command NO. Redirect your dog if necessary, and praise him for his attention.

Now take these same distractions outside. Work in a familiar environment initially, gradually increasing the level of distractions as you did inside. Eventually work in environments that are unfamiliar, continuing to lay down an obstacle course of temptations for your dog. Each time he focuses intensely on an object, say NO and redirect him. Praise all cooperation.

Now you're ready to take on the world. Think of every distraction as you did when you set up distractions in chapter 6 and practiced your exercises around them. Watch your dog's ears to determine his focus: If they're pricked and forward, his attention is rooted on the distraction. If they're flickering back, he's aware of the distraction but also attuned to you. If you wonder where his focus is, side step to the right—does his head follow you, or is his focus elsewhere?

If you're walking your dog at HEEL and he's suddenly distracted by a jogger or bicyclist, take a giant step to the right and remind HEEL. If he follows you, praise him; if not, tug his collar or the leash. (Please always leave a leash attached if you're near a roadway.)

Is your dog enchanted by a scent? Is he dying to mark every tree? Unless you'd like to mark along with him, set the rhythm of the walk, leaving all marking opportunities for closer to your home. Let his leash go slack and step away from him. Does he follow? If not, say NO as you tug the leash, then remind HEEL and continue walking, or remind STAY if you're standing still.

City streets are littered with tasty bits of garbage. The smells will intoxicate your dog. If he's more enticed by the smells than by your direction, tug the collar/leash quickly and say NO. Reissue your original direction and praise his cooperation.

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