How Do I Get My Dog to Ignore Distractions?
First, it's important to understand that you need to be the bigger distraction in any situation. It is not about teaching your dog to ignore every distraction because there are no distraction-free environments in which you can live with a dog, but rather it's about learning how to successfully manage to live in our world together. So, realistic expectations for keeping your dog's attention and focus will help guide you to realistic solutions.
"When dogs are in certain mindsets, like working dogs, they're very focused on the work and listening to what the handler says as well as managing their tasks," Daniel explains. However, even in these situations, the dogs are splitting their focus between two things.
"In the regular day-to-day, when the dog is not in that work-zone mindset, it's much harder to get them to view you as a priority."
To help your dog stay focused on you, it's important to create scenarios in which your dog views you as the priority. For example, doing spontaneous recall exercises or high-value reward training sessions are both ways to train your dog that you are the priority because they have to come back to you to get what they want. If you are able, Daniel recommends creating a situation in which Fido's attention is being rewarded intermittently so he learns that staying attentive will lead to reinforcement (and not just dinner time).
These techniques tie into the overall structured obedience training regimen you set up with your dog. What's most important is that you are able to communicate what you want or need of your pup in an effective manner so that he knows the right behavior to perform when you're outside of the usual training zone.
Repetition is very important. As time goes on, you will ultimately build a symbiotic relationship with your dog because he will begin to look to you for direction instead of giving in to distractions. Additionally, the onus is on you to anticipate potentially problematic situations while you're out and about.
"This is easier said than done," Daniel continues. "I like to evaluate what's going on while I'm walking my dog. If I see somebody in the distance with a dog or see kids starting to play a game I know will instigate my dog to act in a way that I don't want, then I might recall her ahead of time."
In doing this, you can shut down potentially problematic situations before they even start. It's you putting yourself into a proactive, rather than reactive mindset. Additionally, you're helping to avoid situations where you otherwise would be setting them up for failure.