“But He Knows Better!”
How many times have you uttered this in frustration about your dog? Maybe you’re at Petsmart and you ask him to sit, but he blows you off. Or you’ve taken her for a walk and she suddenly starts pulling like a draft horse to get to another dog. Or you have company over, and he jumps on them to say hi – he never does that to you! Why, when your dog obviously knows the behaviors of sit, walk nicely, and keep your feet on the floor to say hi, does he suddenly forget everything he’s ever learned?
“He knows better!!”
But does he, really? Think about it. Let’s take sit as an example. Where have you trained sit? At home, maybe at puppy class. In what kinds of distractions have you trained sit? You might have trained with the distraction of “kids running around the room”, or “other dogs close by in puppy class”, but that’s probably as far as you got. If that’s the case, then your dog actually DOESN’T know better – he doesn’t know HOW to sit when he’s in public!
“That doesn’t make sense! He knows how to do it, why would being in public make a difference? He’s just being stubborn.”
Ok, let me give you a scenario. You’re an 8 year old child, who’s very good at math. In fact, you’re above your grade level, and have all your multiplication tables memorized. Your parents have surprised you with a trip to Disney World, and while you’re in the middle of the park, with parades and rides and happy children everywhere, your mom asks you to do your multiplication tables.
Can you do it? Probably not! There’s so much going on around you, so much excitement, that you just can’t focus.
This is what we’re asking our dogs to do when we expect them to perform perfectly in distracting environments.
Does that mean it can’t be done? Of course not!
The trick is to teach them how to do those behaviors even in the face of distractions.
You can start by working with small distractions – can the dog sit with someone else in the room? How about a couple people? Can they sit in the backyard? Can they sit if you’re holding a toy? And make sure you reward them – this is hard! The more you work on their behaviors around small distractions, the easier it will be to add bigger distractions. If they have a lot of trouble responding at any point, then you’ve probably asked too much from them too soon. No problem – just back up and make it a little easier til they get the hang of it.
Still having trouble? Schedule a consultation with a trainer, and we can show you how to succeed – even in Disney level distractions!