When we ask our dogs to learn anything new, we usually go in with the assumption that it will take approximately X amount of time for the dog to catch on. If the dog doesn’t catch on as quickly as we had predicted, we often start to doubt our technique or even the dog’s ability to learn. While these things may indeed be the case, there is often a simpler, often overlooked cause, too many distractions.
Our dogs don’t often grab the gravity of the training situation. To us, class is in session and it is time for focused and undivided attention. But for them, it’s a game that is as interesting as we make it. There are always things competing for their attention, much of it just background noise to us.
We can’t smell the neighbor dog that came traipsing through our back yard last night. We don’t hear the sounds of the mice rustling under the shed. We don’t notice that the birds darting in and out of the back yard warbling “Catch me if you can!” It’s just not part of our conscious. But to our dogs, all those things and more are constantly competing with our instruction to see which game is the most interesting.
Remember that when teaching something new to your dog, you and your game should be the most interesting thing in the room and you should have as little competition for the dogs attention as you can possible manage. Once the dog has learned in a low distraction environment, then you can take your act on the road and add distractions as you go. If the new behavior starts to fall apart; take a step backward to lower distraction and make smaller forward steps from there.
Setting your dog up for success is one of the best ways to keep training fun and interesting for you both.