Training your dog is really only partially about conveying information to the dog. The rest of the equation is about other factors that interfere with your training. There are many and even when you're expecting them, sometimes they take you by surprise. The good news is, there is always a solution if you are determined enough. Let's talk about a few problems and some potential solutions.
For most dogs, people can be a tough distraction. Whether your dog loves them, is curious about them or is worried about them, other people will typically play a role in your progress. I recently bought a dog vest for my 5.5 month old Toller puppy, Ned. On either side of the vest is the phrase, "Do Not Pet." I don't put it on him to be anti-social. Quite the contrary. Ned is a VERY social puppy. When he sees people and especially when he sees children, he wants to greet them. If they get excited about his approach, he loses his little puppy mind and becomes a "sled-dog-in-training" trying to get to them faster. It makes my job of training him to have manners impossible. I got the vest to slow people down, not to stop them completely. My hope was that they would see it and take pause so that I could get Ned's focus and then instruct the person on how I'd like them to approach. It's made for much better training and Ned has already started to realize that with patience comes the attention he's seeking from strangers.
A solution like that will go a long way. Controlling the other half of the equation enables you to move forward in a positive manner with your dog. Most people are happy to cooperate and help you train if they know that's your objective.
Other dogs popping up on your walk can be a very tough distraction for most dogs in training, especially if your dog has a strong history of reinforcement from playing with other dogs. Rather than allowing your dog to greet other dogs while on leash (you can read about the dangers of allowing on leash greeting in a previous blog post), consider this another training opportunity. Start by keeping your distance from the other dog - I'll frequently cross the road or find a quiet space that I can work with my dog while the other dog passes. If I have to wait it out, I'll usually work on tricks - something low stress and high reward for a young dog that promotes their focus remaining on me and not the distraction of the other dog. I make sure I have my best reinforcements at hand for these situations.
Environment is tricky because it's lacking in predictibility. You never know when there is going to be a squirrel or a bike that enters into your path. Your best bet to combat the environment is to overtrain in predictible locations. For example, work in your backyard and use a toy that resembles a squirrel to proof some of your training. Have a neighbourhood child ride a bike around while you work your dog. There are so many ways to proof through potential interruptions in the environment. Don't wait and leave it to chance. Build some history with proofing exercises so that when you encounter the real thing, it won't be a novel distraction for your dog.
A little planning goes a long way. If there is something you are struggling with with your dogs, there is usually a solution. If you can't think of one yourself, head to Facebook and ask your dog friends what solution they've used. There will likely be a great variety of ideas to move forward with.
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.