Ivan Balabanov once said, “If you don’t understand how something works, you can’t improve upon it.” This aptly applies to dog training. So many of us work with our dogs day in and day out, training them, wanting them to become the best versions of themselves, at times, with little to no understanding of the anatomy of dog training.
It all boils down to 3Ds :
Duration: For how long can your dog perform a given cue?
Distraction: How well can your dog perform a given cue amidst distractions?
Distance: How far can your dog be from you while still in the cue?
Let’s chat about improvising on dog training with the 3Ds in the order in which they should ideally be added. But before we begin, let’s understand what is a dog’s limit and how does it matter while training your dog with 3Ds.
Understanding a Dog’s Limit
It is common for us humans to set high expectations. We do so with ourselves and with the world around us. Our dogs are no exception to these expectations.
However, as trainers and pet parents, we must work with our dogs and their limitations and not against them. Every dog has a unique personality, operates at their own speed and has their personal preferences when it comes to what motivates them. Some dogs are play motivated, some are food motivated whereas some are more motivated with their environment. Trying to lure a play motivated dog repeatedly with treats will not work.
Further more, the most important aspect of progressing in 3Ds of dog training is recognizing our dogs’ success limit. In other words, set your dog up for success by keeping the 3Ds as low key as possible when you begin. The more successful repetitions your dog has, the better he gets at performing the behavior.
In simple terms, building duration in dog training implies increasing the time frame of holding and/or performing each command. This concept works on increasing a dog’s attention span, patience and persistence. Building duration is especially important for commands like Leave it, Stay and Place where the dog is expected to continue performing the cue for a substantial amount of time.
A Stay without duration is basically just a “Sit.” Increasing the time interval of the cues is not only a great focus building exercise, but also has the following additional benefits –
Greatly improves impulse control
Teaches the dog to calm down effectively
Helps build reliable Stay and Place commands
Helps build a reliable “Heel”
Is important for success in outdoor obedience
Tips to Build Duration:
1. Start small
Start with just a couple of seconds and train your way up to your targeted time frame. Eg, if you’re in process of teaching your dog to hold a Stay for 2 minutes, start with 5 seconds. Even if you feel like your dog is capable of much more, release him in a few seconds initially. This is because we want the dog to believe it is easy and be willing to repeat it again.
2. More the duration, more the rewards
For every few seconds added to your dog’s existing training, your dog must be rewarded and praised. For a command like Place, make sure to reward your dog repeatedly every few seconds to keep your dog going for a longer period of time.
3. Keep the dog engaged
Engagement is one of the most important aspects of not only building duration, but all the 3Ds of dog training. The more engaged you are with your dog, the easier training gets. If the training is mechanical with limited interaction from your end, your dog will keep finding other exciting things to get distracted with.
Training your dog without distractions is like trying to finish first in a race without other runners. You may have crossed the finish line, but you have no idea how fast or slow you were or if you were even doing it right. Similarly, your dog may know how to perform several training commands like Sit, Down, Stay etc. But you will never know how well he can do those till you put it to test in midst of distractions.
There are essentially multiple types of distractions. But for the ease of learning, let’s break it down into two-
Controllable distractions are those that we can manually control. Eg – throwing toys and treats around for impulse control, keeping and/or not keeping food on the counter while practicing ‘counter surfing training’, etc.
Uncontrollable distractions, as the name suggests, are distractions that are out of our control. A few examples of this would be people walking by outside the window, weather changes, fireworks, environmental sounds, sights and noises, etc.
The simplest way to look at distraction training is to remember to have full control of either the dog or the distraction. Eg- When practicing “Stay” with your dog, practice in an environment with controlled distractions. This will enable you to have full control of the distractions and the dog and set both your dog and yourself up for success.
Once your dog excels in a controlled environment, it is time to practice the command in outdoor situations where there are uncontrolled distractions. This time, have your dog on a leash and pack some high value rewards so that you not only have full control on your dog, but also have ample motivation for him.
Tips to Build Distractions
Start with low value distractions and train your way up to high value distractions
Change your rewards with increased difficulty of distractions.
Be mindful of the distractions you cannot see. When you are out on your walks, there are hundreds of elements that may not be visible to the human eye. Eg – weather change, light breeze, moist air, plethora of smells on the ground, etc.
Your dog is dealing with more distractions that you can imagine when you are outdoors with him. Remember that when practicing obedience commands in various environments.
Last, but not the least, Distance is one of the most underestimated aspects of dog training. It is not just added while practicing Stay, but in several other situations too, such as –
Recognizing the threshold of a leash reactive dog
Teaching a dog to leave food alone (it is easy for a dog to leave food alone when it is at a distance than when it is right in front of him)
Communicating with a dog from a distance
Hunting and other sporting activities
From ascending to descending order, you can play with distance while training your dog in a variety of ways.
Tips to Build Distance
Depending on the cue in consideration, start at the easiest level and train your way up
Have a fool proof correction mechanism. If you’re away from your dog while adding distance (understandably so), ask for help from another person to add corrections and reinforce good behavior whenever needed
Make sure to reward frequently
Combining All 3Ds
You can safely say that your dog ‘knows’ to perform some cues like Stay, Place, Leave it and Recall when your dog can do them with the 3Ds. To put it in perspective, if your dog can Stay for about 2 minutes in a distracting outdoor location and you walk 25-30 steps away from him while he continues to Stay till release, you can say that your dog can perform a reliable Stay with 3Ds.
Tips to combine 3Ds
Make sure to perfect each D before you move on to the next
Reward heavily while training your way up
Keep engagement high and constant
Adjust the levels of the 3Ds if your dog is struggling. For Eg, if your dog is already uncomfortable with you walking away from them while practicing Stay, avoid adding distractions and keep the session short.
Dog training is a never-ending process of evolving. The only hard and fast rule Is, there are no hard and fast rules.