When we first started training our dogs, we made a lot of rookie mistakes. One of the biggest was trying to make everything perfect for them. We tried to find the perfect field, or make the perfect set up, or have perfect weather. Probably our biggest mistake was making sure there were no distractions. It was not until we started training with a professional trainer that we learned distractions can be very helpful to training.
How can training with distractions be helpful?
When you are at a test, or even out hunting, you cannot control the environment even if you try. For example, we have been at many a test where there has been loud talking from the other participants. However, our dogs are not distracted by it because when we train, there is often loud talking. Loud talking is allowed so that at a test the dogs will be used to it and pay it no mind. Distractions are going to happen so it is better to train with them so they are a non issue when they happen during a test.
You cannot predict when a distraction will happen, all you can do is hope your dog stays focused enough that they do not even notice.
This past weekend we went out to the local park to run a few marks. We had a rainy weekend, but the dogs needed some exercise because they had energy to burn. (I only had my phone camera due to the rain.) The park was deserted except for a bunch of ducks…
and a whole bunch of seagulls and geese.
The birds made a huge distraction for the dogs. Live birds are always more interesting to our dogs than a plastic training bumper.
The dogs were distracted by the birds and their marking reflected this. They had trouble marking a simple double. Also, the field was saturated with puddles everywhere. In addition to the scent of the nearby birds, there was a lot of scent left over in the field which added even more distraction. Thank goodness we will be able to get out to the farm to train starting April 1 so we will be able to train with more smells than at the park. I have no doubt that in short order, stray birds and smells will become less of an issue for them.
Over the years we have had some novel distractions while training at the park.
The farm where we train is private property and the only activity that happens there is dog training and testing. The park is a different story. The park is public and open for all to use. This park is probably the only one near us where we can do a bit of training with dogs off lead. The police and park workers seem to let everyone enjoy their hobby of choice as long as they are respectful of the park grounds and do not cause trouble.
So over the years we have shared the pond with miniature sail boats.
That photo is from 2012, but the guys and their little boats still show up to use the pond once the weather warms up. The dogs have learned to ignore this distraction.
Lately, we have had to deal with the guys and their little airplanes. These planes are rather loud, but the dogs did not pay them any mind. I guess planes in the air are not equal to training bumpers in the air.
I don’t know what it is about this park that attracts all the miniature hobby clubs, but it does. For the most part, we share the space and are happy for the distraction. In the case of the boats, the dogs have learned to ignore them. In the case of the planes they were never really an issue which is why training with distractions is important. Eventually you want the dog to take all distractions in stride.
Do you train with distractions? I would love to hear about them in the comments. What are they and how do they change or affect your training?