Working with Distraction
by Joe Law
26 June 2012
many times have we heard dog handlers complain that the dog performs
perfectly in his home environment but at trials behaves as if he has
never been trained? The difference is in the distraction
level. Dogs often associate a learned behaviour with the place in
which it was learned and when moved to a new location, the distraction
levels play havoc with the dog’s performance.
At trials, the dog
is not only experiencing a new location but is also confronted with new
odours, other dogs, other activities, noises, people, different types
of terrain, cover, birds and gunfire as well as working at various
distances. The question then becomes how to condition your dog to
cope with the distractions?
The answer is to initially train
with as few distractions as possible and then gradually increase
distraction levels slowly and methodically. Each time a new
distraction is introduced into the training program, it is like a new
beginning for the dog, and other factors influencing the dog will need
to be reduced or even eliminated for a while before gradually being
An example might be to train a dog to walk at heel
while off lead and to be steady right up to the moment when it is sent
(1) Establish the behaviour in the yard with no distraction and nothing cast.
(2) Stay in the yard and gradually add distractions:
(a) Another person standing or walking close by.
(b) Another dog or animal sitting or moving around.
(c) A child playing with a ball.
(d) Some obstacles in the path that need negotiating.
(e) Some noise: laughter, clapping, coughing, squealing, gunfire
(f) Move to a new location and repeat the distractions.
(3) Move to another location with heavier cover and different odours and reintroduce the distractions slowly.
Repeat the whole set of exercises from the beginning only now
have something cast when the dog reaches the
firing point but do not allow the dog to retrieve.
(5) Reward the dog by allowing it to retrieve occasionally but only when steadiness has been perfect.
Retrieving Trials, sighted birds combined with gunfire are very
exciting for the dog and much of the training demanding steadiness and
control can be easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. Too
many opportunities to retrieve and not enough emphasis on obedience and
steadiness, especially in a dog’s early training, can easily result in
bad habits being formed. It is important that all aspects of
obedience, including carrying and delivering game to hand, are combined
with casting and lining drills and constantly maintained in a dog’s
training program. However, that having been said, momentum and
retrieving drive must also be maintained and a balanced program to suit
a dog’s individual needs is important.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Dogs NSW magazine.
page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc.
(Affiliated with Dogs NSW)