How to Train Your Dog to Come With Distractions

Medium
3-19 Weeks
General

Introduction

Your dog knows how to come. You’re sure of it. You’ve spent hours working on it in the house and backyard, along with all the other basics like 'sit', 'down' and 'heel'. Every time you call, your dog comes running, hoping for a good treat or toy, but happy to accept an ear scratch and an “atta boy”. You have no concerns as you bring your dog to the dog park. Surely she will behave herself. Several hours later when you are ready to go home, you are humiliated to find that you are the one chasing your dog all over the park, calling until you’re hoarse. Anyone would think your dog had never heard her name before! All those longs hours of training--wasted.

Your training wasn’t wasted, and although it seems like your dog has forgotten it all, she really hasn’t. It’s just that when we introduce distractions, it becomes much more difficult for our dogs to obey. This may be because your dog hasn’t developed the self-control to overcome the desires inspired in her by all the new distractions, or it may be because your dog doesn’t understand your command to come in this new context of a dog park, or it could be because your dog is testing the limits of your authority. Most likely it is a combination of all three.

Defining Tasks

Dogs that are bred to follow their nose or chase down game may have a harder time overcoming distractions and coming when called than retrievers or general purpose work dogs. Dogs that track or chase have been bred to be independent of their owner and focused on their quarry. In the field, such dogs have typically been followed by their owner until the prey was treed or taken down, depending on the breed. Because of these predispositions, such dogs may have a harder time coming when called, even if you work very hard. For such dogs, additional tools like an electronic collar may prove useful.

Successfully training your dog to come with distractions depends on a good deal of patience. Having your dog run off on you can be extremely frustrating, and feels like a betrayal. It does no good, however, to lose your temper. Your dog is not refusing to come because she doesn’t love or respect you, but because of complex factors, many of them beyond her control. Identify why she isn’t coming and work gradually with her towards success, while using external controls like barriers and long leashes to keep control of the situation and keep everyone safe.

Getting Started

Training your dog to come with distractions is similar to training her to come without distractions. You need to have something that can motivate her to come, like yummy treats, a favorite toy, and of course, your enthusiastic praise and affection. If she is already coming reliably without distractions, you already know what motivates your dog. Bring these same tools to the distraction training.

Some additional tools are useful in teaching your dog to come with distractions. A more distinct attention-getting device than your dog’s name, like a whistle or horn, can prove useful in cutting through distractions. Long lines, especially a lunge line with some elasticity, are extremely useful both for having ultimate control of your dog and for nudging her into paying attention. An elastic line is good because it prevents a sharp pull if your dog suddenly bolts against it. This protects both you and your dog. Finally, for dogs that are struggling to break out of their focus on other things, an electronic collar can be a great tool for getting their attention. If your goal is to work with your dog off-leash in open country, a GPS collar is a good idea to find your dog if she should get lost.

The Look for Me Method

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Step
1
Find a safe place to play
Choose a dog park or friend’s house that has places for you to hide and a secure fence from which you can exit.
Step
2
Introduce distractions
Make sure there are interesting distractions for your dog to become immersed in. Wait for your dog to wander off and become interested.
Step
3
Call your dog
Call your dog using the whistle or call to which she has been trained to come. If she comes, reward her and let her wander off again. Wait some time and try again. If she keeps coming, introduce more distractions. When she doesn’t come, move onto the next step.
Step
4
Hide
Make sure your dog isn’t looking at you and go hide. Wait her out. It may take some time for her to come looking. If she does come looking, reward her enthusiastically and go with her back to the distraction area. Wait some time and practice again. If she doesn’t come after a half hour or more, move onto the next step.
Step
5
Pretend to leave
Call your dog. If she refuses to come, pretend to leave. Make a show of closing the gate, even start your car. She should come running to the fence. As soon as she does, go reward her enthusiastically and make a great show of your reunion.
Step
6
Practice
Practice over and over in many environments, until your dog learns that it is her responsibility to listen for your call and come, or else she may lose you. Over time, this fear will cut through all distractions.
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The Long Line Method

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Step
1
Safety first
Use a secure and comfortable fitting harness so your dog won’t be injured if she bolts on a neck lead. It is best if your line has some elasticity, to protect you and your dog from sudden jolts. Be very careful that your line never gets wrapped around your dog’s legs or gets twisted around a tree.
Step
2
Range freely
Let your dog range out from you, pulling line freely behind her. Follow her discreetly, being careful that the line doesn’t get hung up on anything.
Step
3
Call your dog
When she has taken a good bit of the line, take up all slack without actually pulling on your dog at all, and call her. If she comes, reward her enthusiastically. If she doesn’t, move on to the next step.
Step
4
Get your dog’s attention
If your dog doesn’t come when you call, give one quick, firm pull on the line while calling again. The pull should be just enough to jostle her and get her attention. If she still doesn’t come, call and pull a little harder, until she starts coming to you.
Step
5
Praise the return
Praise your dog enthusiastically as she returns to you. She may be sheepish, knowing she should have come, or she may seem reluctant. No matter how she is, be enthusiastic and shower her with praise all the way back to you and rewards when she gets to you.
Step
6
Practice
Keep practicing in different settings. When you feel confident, remove the line. The first time your dog doesn’t respond, put the line back on. Soon she will have practiced enough to have built the self control to come no matter the distractions.
Recommend training method?

The Electronic Collar Method

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Step
1
Treat your dog as you would yourself
A good rule of thumb with training tools is to not do anything to your dog that you wouldn’t do to yourself. Try the electronic collar on your own arm and experiment with the vibration settings so you appreciate how much stimulus each setting conducts.
Step
2
Find a safe place
The electronic collar is not the same as a leash. Your dog may ignore the vibration and refuse to come. If you are working on having your dog off leash in open country, use a GPS tracker to find your dog in case of emergency. It is best to train first in a fenced in open area like a dog park.
Step
3
Call your dog
Call your dog. If she comes, reward her enthusiastically and let her wander off again. If she doesn’t, move onto the next step.
Step
4
Get your dog’s attention
Use a low setting in a quick burst while calling your dog again. She should look up, startled by the sensation.
Step
5
Call and reward
Call your dog again in a happy and enthusiastic way, clapping and acting crazy. Your dog should forget whatever weird feeling that was, along with whatever she was sniffing, and come running.
Step
6
Practice
Keep practicing. Your dog may get to a place where just the call or whistle can get her attention, or she may always need the reminder of the electronic collar to break her focus on whatever she is looking at.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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