The three D’s of dog training and why you need to know about them


 The three D’s of dog training are known as Distraction, Distance and Duration. They come into play in every context and all training exercises.

Distractions are part of life especially for dogs. Let’s face it a dog can be distracted by just about anything from the high value food reward to the wind blowing leaves. Distractions are part of dog training no matter what, so we might as well begin to work with them and take them into account.

 Always start with the lowest amount of distraction and build on it as your dog does better with the training.

For example, if you are working on down stays, get the dog rock solid in the house and the back yard before attempting the down stays at the barbecue at your neighbor’s house.

Distractions are often the reason for the dog breaking the stay, or tuning out or becoming frustrated.

Sometimes distractions are environmental sounds or sights. Other times we are doing distracting things, placing hands in treat pouches or pockets, walking too far away during stay training, or perhaps the dog is too close (distance) to the door or gate for a sit and wait?

Being aware of distractions and doing your best to set the dog up for success by lowering them will help your training immensely. In fact I would say the number one reason why dogs are unsuccessful in training is some form of distraction.

Distance can help or hinder your dogs training. In the case of the reactive dog you want as much distance as needed when you begin to desensitize and counter condition the dog to what makes it reactive. Far too many clients detail attempts at reducing their dog’s reactivity only to find it is too difficult as they are too close to the distracting stimuli and usually for too long. (Duration)

Conversely you want a short distance from your dog when building duration for a stay so you can keep a high rate of reinforcement. Many people walk away too far during stay training increasing distance, thus lowering their rate of reinforcement.

Distance can also be a factored into your Recall as well as that sit & wait at doors. I see many people work on Recalls at a distance that is either to close so it’s too easy or too far making it more difficult than it should be at the outset of training. 

I find a good distance for beginning Recall practice is somewhere between

200 – 500 feet. Depending on the dog and their history of Recall try building by increasing 100 foot distances as your dog gets better.

Another way to help you dog decrease distance and come over to you without using your emergency recall word is to teach “Touch”. This helps you get your dog over to you in many circumstances.

Place your hand out, palm facing the dog, with fingers pointing to the left or right away from your body depending on the hand you use. When your dog touches your palm with their nose say YES & Treat. Once your dog is doing this without any hesitation, then start adding the word “Touch”, say the cue first and then place your hand out as the target.

Touch is also a great way to get your dog out of play or when you need to get them in from the backyard so you do not spoil the all important Recall. Start the “touch” training at a short distance of 5 – 10 feet then build on it.

Duration is also a very big deterrent for many dogs to either hold stays or deal with frustration and reactivity. I suggest you always consider duration in training, especially when working with reactive dogs. You want to start with a short duration so the dog stays under threshold.

When working on stays of any kind also start with a duration that easy so the dogs gets the training then build as necessary, this is really true in the case of sit & wait at doors. I’ve seen far too many people keep the door open too long (duration) and too wide (distraction), thus the dog keeps breaking the stay.

I find that when this happens, you can ask the dog for a sit & wait about 5 – 7 feet from the door and as soon as you go to the door and crack it ever so slightly, you can then release the dog right away. This usually accounts for a 2 – 3 second wait. Build on it from there.

Adding and subtracting the Three D’s

These three D’s are what I consider the mathematics of dog training. It is suggested that you only increase one of these at a time to really maximize the dogs training. However dogs and people are individuals and depending on the respective reward and consequence history of each dog you may be able to increase these D’s simultaneously. Hint the lower the distractions the easier it is to increase duration and distance.

If you have been noticing your dog breaking stays, not coming when called, reacting at some dogs and not others or perhaps door dashing during sit & wait at doors, you may want to reconsider one or all of these three D’s in your training protocol.

For instance are you too close to the door with it open too wide for the dog to hold the stay? The open door is distracting and the duration may be too long.

Are you calling your dog from a far distance while at the beach, park or other area where distractions are really high? Consider doing some shorter distance Recalls in the back yard or in an area that is not too distracting.

Is your dog going over threshold due to dogs being too close, for too long causing too much of a distraction during training to reduce reactivity? Try bringing your dog to a large parking lot at a Pet Co or park where dogs frequent. Park way out in the back of the parking lot and make sure no dogs can approach from behind or suddenly from the sides. Usually these scenarios provide for short durations as dogs are coming and going not hanging around so much. In addition you can use your car as a time out place, a visual blocker or even drive off if things get too hectic.

When we start focusing on the three D’s we usually see where training is falling apart or succeeding. I’ve yet to find any type of training where the Three D’s do not come into play and may need adjusting.

Have fun training and I hope this helps!

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