Remember that despite your best planning, no plan will occur exactly as it is laid out on paper. You, you dog and the distraction or environment will demand that changes be made on the fly. Below are training plans (think of them as frameworks if it helps you be flexible) to get you started. Please adapt or modify them for your own dog’s needs. They can be used for basic beginning training or training problem areas or anything in between. Each stage may take one training session or many, depending on you, your dog, his previous training and experience with similar situations, the object, animal or people involved and the environment where training occurs. Don’t forget, you will be clicking (or marking) and rewarding for calm behavior or focus on you at each little step.
Your Dog's Perspective
When training a dog for distractions you need to think from your dog’s perspective. Dogs learn about the world using predominantly their senses of smell, hearing and sight. So these senses are what will capture their attention. Which sense is predominant is usually determined by the breed. So for example, sight hounds are usually triggered by the sight of things moving quickly, scent hounds are triggered by interesting smells, while more reactive dogs (like terriers), tend to be more sensitive to sounds. You may need to spend more time on your dog’s preferred sense than the others but you want to make sure you work on all three separately, then together. Be creative-ask others for ideas if you run into a real challenge for your dog.
Work on Only One Aspect of a Distraction at a Time
Break down each distraction into its simplest parts and work each one separately. Once success has been achieved with each one, then you can start combining components. This is what is known as raising the criteria or splitting the behavior.
Set the Scene
Also remember that if you are calm, your dog will be too. Take a helper to help setting up the training equipment or the environment, provide moral support for you or to interact/distract/direct members of the public as required. Give them clear guidance what EXACTLY you want them to do. (Stand up straight, avoid eye contact with dog, explain to public what you are doing when they reach a specific spot etc). Thanking them afterwards or taking them out for a coffee etc goes along way to having them help you again-think positive reinforcement for humans!
Remember to Reward
At each step of the training, start by click and rewarding desired behaviors. And don’t forget to jackpot reward (a handful of 8-10 treats delivered one at a time) your dog when she does something that is new or a breakthrough for her. This keeps her interest and also motivates her to focus on you, not the distraction.
How Fast will My Dog Progress?
How quickly your dog progresses through each step depends on her previous socialization to the objects/people/animals/environment (that is why it is so important to socialize them during the critical period of 7 to 16 weeks), current level of training/teamwork, motivation for reward, general resilience to new things and places, and overall confidence level among other things.
What is a Threshold?
This is the level at which your dog can no longer stay calm or focused on you with that object, person, animal or environment. She will show a few signs of stress (positive or negative) such as taking treats harder than usual (but can eat), ears forward and listening to object, eyes open wide and looking at the object -but can still be redirected by a cue or sound that you make. She should also be able to complete simple task such as sit, stand, down and nose targeting your hand. You want to start with your dog under threshold and keep her there as she learns to deal with distractions. Going above the threshold, causes the training process to take longer.