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Adding Distractions and Impulse Control in Clicker Training Dogs

November 18, 2013     Ed Frawley

Control Your Nerves

People will get nervous when they train dogs. This is very true when individuals are performing in front of others. If you do get nervous, learn to relax and control their nerves.

Dogs will know when you are angry. They will sense it. They also know when you're nervous. If their pack leader is nervous, they will know that something is wrong too. As a leader, you need to be confident so that your dog is confident too. By being nervous, you are making your dog nervous too. This slows down their learning process.

If you are naturally a nervous person, you need to practice controlling those nerves for the sake of your dog's training. Take a deep breath and meditate. Mentally walk through what it is that you want to do. Practice with a videotape. This camera rolling makes people nervous but getting used to it will help relax you.

Point is, you need to be under emotional control if that is the same thing you want from your dog.

I relate this to people who ride horses. A horse will know if you're a nervous rider and those nervous riders will end up on the ground.


Adding Distractions and Impulse Control

Once you get into training, you will quickly learn how distracted your dog can be. Your dog may be great at home but will forget everything when in a class or a new environment.

Adding distractions into training is an expansive topic that could be the topic of a book. What I'm explaining will only be a simple scratching of the surface as I relate it to marker training.

New dog owners need to understand that dogs will not learn as quickly as they usually would in a distraction-free environment. Some dogs won't even work with you.

With this in mind, it is important that your dog first becomes proficient at learning a behavior when it is gradually exposed to more and more levels of distractions. Distractions can be very simple ranging from turning your back on a dog and asking him to sit. Even kneeling down and asking a dog to sit is a distraction as it's only learned to sit while you are standing. Anything that is different counts as a distraction.

After identifying an environmental distraction, moving away just a few feet further away can be enough to help the dog work through the exercise. Every dog will have a different "bubble" or circle of comfort. With experience and practice in multiple training sessions, the size of a dog's comfort zone can be reduced. This will work gradually. One dog might perform comfortably 50 yards from a certain distraction and another may not have a problem working 10 yards away from the very same distraction.

One very effective and helpful tool to use is the "look command" when your dog gets distracted. When we ask our dog to look, we expect it to look into our eyes. Saying this will help your dog re-focus. Once it starts looking you in the face, you can then start requesting for other behaviors and continue on with your training.

Many people will call this part of the training "proofing the dog". Clicker training is more about allowing a dog to do something and less about forcing a dog to do something. Many trainers will use the term "impulse control" which simply refers to a dog learning to control himself and choosing to do the right thing in the face of detractions.

Old school training will use corrections when a dog gets distracted. We don't do that when doing clicker training. Instead, we will simply tell it to perform again, otherwise, the reward is put away.

It is very important during this distraction stage that you only add or change one thing at a time. It is very important that you don't raise both the level of distraction as well as your expectations of learning a new behavior. Your dog is going to have a harder time learning with new distractions. It is important to keep him motivated.

Next, we'll be learning about targeting in clicker training.