At TransPaw Gear, we want you to have adventures with your dog that are safe and fun. One way to ensure that happens is by teaching your dog a few key skills. In previous posts, we’ve talked about leave it, coming when called, and loose leash walking (including setting a foundation, a game to hone this skill, and incorporating real-life rewards into this training).
Now that you understand how to teach the fundamentals, we want to introduce you to a concept that applies to teaching and refining many different behaviors, the 3Ds: distance, duration, and distraction. Understanding how these affect your training, and your dog’s ability to perform behaviors you’re working on, is critical to training success. Let’s look at each one in turn, including an example of how it might apply to your training.
Distance, when applied to dog training, is exactly what you’d expect! How far away can you be from your dog when you cue a behavior and have them still execute that behavior? It may be easy for your dog to hold a stay, for example, when you’re standing right next to them, but if you step 5 or 10 feet away, it might get harder. Expecting your dog to understand that what you’re asking them to do is the same regardless of where you are in space is unrealistic.
How do you work on distance? Gradually! Using one of our key adventuring skills, the recall, let’s break this down. In our post about teaching the recall, you’ll notice that we had you start right next to your dog, then move a few feet away once they were successful at the first step. You gradually increased the distance, making sure your dog was getting it all along. Thinking about the distance at which you’re asking your dog to perform a behavior, and increasing that distance bit by bit, is critical for any new behavior you want your dog to be fluent in!
Most of the things we ask our dogs to do are behaviors that we would like them to start, and then keep doing. What good is a sit if the dog pops right back up? Loose leash walking is also a duration behavior, ultimately. Having your dog hang out by your side for a second, and then dart off to sniff a bush, is less desirable than a nice consistent loose leash. Like distance, duration is something that needs to be built up slowly. It would be too much to expect 3 minutes of loose leash walking from a dog who has only ever done it for 3 seconds.
When you start adding duration to a behavior, do so slowly and incrementally. And it’s helpful not to always be increasing the duration you ask for. Dogs are excellent pattern-finders, and if their “job” just keeps getting harder and harder, they are more likely to check out and give up. This means that it’s best to vary the length, with the average gradually increasing but the duration itself going up and down. For example, you could ask for loose leash walking in increments that look something like this: 3 seconds, 7 seconds, 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 8 seconds, 15 seconds, 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 12 seconds, 18 seconds, 25 seconds, 5 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. (This is not a hard and fast guideline! It’s just an example of how you might vary your duration.)
As you add duration to any behavior, make sure you’re the one telling your dog they’re all done doing what you’ve asked. Use a release cue your dog knows, like “okay” or “free” or “all done,” to make it clear your dog is on a break. Otherwise, they’ll just be learning that they are the ones who get to decide when they’re done doing what you’ve asked them to do – not the lesson you’re hoping to teach!
We live in a distracting world, and it’s doubly so for dogs! We expect a lot of them – ignore that smell, don’t put that trash in your mouth, don’t bark back at that dog behind the fence. Distractions are everywhere, and so it’s important to incorporate controlled distractions into your training. That’s why, in every training protocol we’ve outlined, we’ve had you start in an area with few distractions. This makes sense, right? It’s hard to learn calculus while skydiving, and it’s hard for your dog to focus on you when the world is so very interesting.
“Leave It” is a great example of the importance of working distractions into the training process, because it’s all about asking your dog to ignore them! You’ll remember from our post about teaching Leave It that we had you start with something only moderately tempting to your dog, and reward with something much more valuable. You probably can imagine that if you’d asked your dog to leave roast beef and gravy and rewarded that with a piece of carrot, it might not have gone well! (Of course, some dogs are obsessed with carrots and don’t care much for roast beef, but you get the idea.)
In addition to the thing you’re asking your dog to leave, it’s important to realize that other distractions can impact your dog’s ability to respond to that cue (or any other). If you are asking your dog to disregard a piece of trash on the ground, it will be easier for them to do that when they’re alone with you on a quiet street as opposed to when a loud truck is speeding by or while passing another dog on the sidewalk. Self-control can be a limited resource, so working up to responding to any cue around distractions is very important. This means that it makes sense to start training in a quiet area of your home, then move to a more distracting one (think living room versus kitchen), then take it outdoors to the least distracting part of your yard, then move it to your driveway, then the sidewalk in front of your house, then down the street, etc.
It’s also important to be aware of the distractions around your dog at all times, and adjust your expectations accordingly. If their Leave It is rock solid in an empty dog park, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to respond to that cue when they’re in the midst of a wrestling match in that same park. Work up to that slowly!
Things to Remember About the 3Ds
You may have noticed a common theme in all of the above: gradual change. Understanding the 3Ds is just the first step! Actually using that knowledge to set your dog up for success is the key to making the 3Ds work for you. If your dog gets stalled out in their training, you’ve likely just upped the ante a bit too fast. Take a step back, make things easier, and try again.
Along the same lines, if you’re making one of these variables harder, it helps to make the others easier, or at least leave them the same. So if you’re adding distance to your recall, make sure the distraction level is lower than or comparable to what it has been. If you’re upping duration on your loose leash walking, do so in a less distracting area first. And if you’re working on harder distractions, don’t expect as much duration from your canine pupil.
We hope this primer on the 3Ds helps you enjoy adventuring with your dog even more. Solid training is the key to staying safe and having fun!