If I ask you to work the math problem: 85 + 15, you can surely answer 100 with just a little bit of thought. If I ask you the same while you careen down the first hill of the Mamba at Worlds of Fun, you might have a harder time working out that math. When the brain is distracted with lots of stimuli, like the sensation of dropping 70 mph in a train on a track, it can’t function as well as if you were sitting in a classroom.
Training a dog can often be like trying to teach someone math on a roller-coaster. To achieve optimum results, it is best to start teaching your dog his new skills in a classroom fit for a dog. This is a place where your dog is accustomed to spending time. For most, this is the kitchen; it has readily accessible rewards and is many times the place a family spends a lot of time.
Learning skills in this low-distraction place gives your dog a chance to focus on the lesson being taught. It is a much harder task to understand our training intentions when your dog is distracted by his environment. When a dog’s attention is divided between your lesson and, for example, the children running through the kitchen, the excitement of the activity probably wins.
Even more difficult for a dog is trying to learn something new when he is not only distracted by things happening around him, but also stressed by these things. Many things will stress a dog. There might be something that is causing fear (some dogs don’t like visitors arriving to their house, loud garbage trucks picking up the trash, men in baseball hats and beards, etc., etc.) or your dog might be feeling stress because of how you are trying to teach your lesson (punishment for wrong choices can be very stressful). Keeping your training fun for you and your dog will actually increase the quality of learning and your dog will be quicker to understand and remember his training.
So start in a classroom, and over time, sprinkle distractions into your training sessions. Beware the assumption that your dog can respond to your cues in all levels of distractions. If you find your dog not responding to the cue, give him a little extra help using a treat to lure him into position, and realize you might need to practice a bit more in a less distracting area.
Before you know it, when life gets as crazy as a roller-coaster, your dog will understand and respond to what you are asking him to do. Enjoy the ride!
Author: Melissa Laub, CPDT-KA