Dog’s Eye View: Distracted training yields disjointed results |

Dog’s Eye View: Distracted training yields disjointed results

Sandra Kruczek

Have you seen this? Friends or family are sitting at a restaurant table staring at their cell phones and maybe playing a video game while simultaneously scanning the room and trying to hold a conversation (or not) with the people at their table. While the ability to multi-task is often kidded about or boasted about between friends, it can be devastating when it comes to interpersonal relationships and, you guessed it, teaching our wonderful canine buddies.

Believe it or not, one of the harder things to do in a dog training class is to get the family member/trainers to stay focused on what they are attempting to teach their dog. Granted, especially at first, being in a room with your dog and other families with their dogs can be extremely distracting. That’s partly why in our classes, the first night with dogs in the classroom is mostly spent with owners sitting at their prepared stations. They work with their dog while sitting comfortably in place and learn one or two basic new skills.

My observation is that the students love their dogs so much and enjoy other people’s dogs so much that it’s hard to stay focused on their own dog in the middle of an exercise. They tend to look away and want to see how others are working or converse with the teacher or people in the next station.

Can you imagine, as a student, giving every bit of your attention to a teacher in order to understand a concept only to have him or her turn away from you and start talking on a cell phone? This is what dogs experience when we give distracted or garbled information to them and expect positive results.

Learning to stay focused on your dog while training is a practiced skill. In class we start with very short, precise behaviors limited to a precise number of times. Here’s an example. We might say, “Put five tiny pieces of food in your right hand, and when your dog turns and looks at you, immediately deliver the food bits quickly, one at a time, to his mouth. Keep your attention only on your dog at all times.” This exercise teaches our dog that giving attention to us has a positive consequence. It also helps the owners to be more observant of their dog’s behavior.

Years ago, I worked with a young professional woman whose dog was highly distracted when out on the walking trail. The dog’s attention was everywhere except on her. Her attention was everywhere except on her dog. Her dog’s ears were held back, he was tense, panting with shallow breaths, and his eyes were scanning everywhere. If her dog pulled away toward something or someone, her response was late, or she jerked him back to get his attention. They were not a team at all. She was always playing catch up.

Her dog needed her to be there, but she was mentally absent. We stopped and moved off the trail, and I asked her to sit on the ground next to her dog. I asked her to just breathe, quietly focus on how lovely her dog was and take some time to just be with him. Sometimes, we are surprised by dog behavior. He almost immediately laid out flat on the grass and fell asleep while people and dogs passed by. She was fully present. The three of us rested there, and she was able to just relax with her dog.

The point of this story is: Be present with your dog. If you expect him to give you attention, give it back. Teach your dog when he needs to pay attention and when he’s “off the clock.” Focus works to facilitate communication and teamwork.

Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC, with more than 25 years of experience. She can be reached at

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