Doggy Training

Five Top Tips for Dealing with Distractions

We have seen lots of dogs over recent years whose owners think they have a recall or a loose lead struggle, but when we look more closely those behaviours are relatively well trained, until…

  • UNTIL another dog appears.
  • UNTIL a bird flies out of the hedge.
  • UNTIL a body of water appears.

Quite often, it is a case of teaching the dog how to cope with the distraction outside of a recall or a loose lead context, then taking those transferable skills back again when they are ready.

If you have an ‘UNTIL’ dog, read on…


Let’s start with the foundation to all training; management. Let’s take the example of recall. If we are trying to improve our recall with dogs as a distraction, but every time we go into the field to train our dogs shoots off and has the most AMAZING game of chase with his doggy pals, it is likely that the training we then do isn’t going to match up to the brilliant game they can get with their friends.

Imagine it like a scoreboard – the distractions have just got a fair few points on their side and you likely have none!

So, to prevent our dogs practicing the things we don’t want them to do we have to manage the situation and make it nearly impossible for our dog to get it wrong. This means we have the opportunity to chalk up some points on OUR side.

For recall, this may look like a trailing long line. For loose lead this could mean avoiding certain streets or areas whilst the training is in progress. If your dog is a stealer of things in the house, making sure your sides are clear – the list goes on.

Quite often management is viewed as cheating, if the dog can’t perform the naughty behaviour then we haven’t done any training, surely?

Let us debunk that myth right now. Management sets you up for success so that you can train the issue more effectively. Your dog will not be on a long line forever – the long line allows the dog to get it right so that when we remove the long line they have a big learning history of making the right choices!


If you were trying to resist eating sugar, would it be easier for you if there was minimal sugar in the house to tempt you, or if someone piled chocolate cakes on your kitchen table?

Our dogs are the same. If we are struggling with excitement when seeing other dogs, is it going to be easier for them to think straight at a distance, or with a cockapoo doing a wiggle dance in front of them?

The key here is to find your dog’s threshold. This is the distance at which they are alert and have noticed the distraction, but are not yet overwhelmed or overexcited. If we train at, or just below, our dog’s threshold we should see improvements. Then, we can reduce the distance! As your dog learns to cope at each closer distance, their threshold distance reduces.

We nearly always aim to keep dogs below their threshold when working because when your dog gets overexcited or anxious, adrenaline is released.

Adrenaline impairs a dog’s ability to think straight or do any form of learning – imagine if I tried to teach you French on a roller coaster! I don’t think you would remember very much and the same goes for our pooches!


A HUGE buzzword at the moment, but let us take it down to it’s simplest level. Disengagement is your dog CHOOSING to look away from the distraction. Not us asking tem to , no secret whispers or rustles of the treat bag – just your dog calmly making a good choice.

To train this…

Find your dog’s threshold and stay further away than this.

Let your dog look at their distraction of choice.

When they look away (either back at you or just away from the distraction) mark with a ‘yes’ and reward.
It is as simple as that!

DISCLAIMER: if you find yourself having to wait AGES to get disengagement then you may need to increase distance further or mix up your rewards. I tend to give a count of 3 slow Mississippi’s and if my dog hasn’t disengaged by then, I would consider making it easier for them. If we let them stare forever they tend to wind themselves up further!

Functional Rewards

Consider the reward you are using. If your dog DESPERATELY wants to chase rabbits, and we call them back to give them a dry biscuit and a pat on the head, they probably aren’t going to be very impressed.

Instead, consider replicating your dog’s desires in the way we reward them.

For instance…

If your dog loves to chase, have a super special recall chaser toy, Available here in our online store,  that they only get occasionally to reward them with.

If your dog loves to sniff, reward them with a big scatter feed in the grass.

If you have a high energy working breed, reward them with games like catching treats, or even their favourite high energy tricks.

When my collie was younger, her favourite thing in the world was chasing rabbits… obviously we couldn’t allow her to actually chase the poor fluffies but we started to call her back when we saw them and as soon as she reached us (and the rabbits were safely away) we would release her back to ‘chase’ along their scent trails. She loved it!

Appropriate Outlets

Lastly, we have to consider if our dog is getting enough appropriate opportunities to display the behaviours they want to. Of course, not every desired behaviour is appropriate but we should consider that these behaviours are often only ‘naughty’ because we, as humans, have decided that we don’t like them.
Have a think about your dog’s biggest distraction, and then consider if they are getting enough time to express that behaviour in a more appropriate setting.
Consider their breed characteristics as well as their personality. Having experienced this first hand; spaniels need time to be spaniels and do spaniel-y things. If my dog didn’t get enough chance to rummage in hedges and quarter through the undergrowth he is not much fun to live with and his recall suffers also.