Lyra - 6.5 months - Scent work and Distractions

A week ago I posted a video of Lyra working on heeling with significant distractions on the field.  I allow her to find the distractions and to discover for herself that working with me is endlessly more fun than self rewarding.  She worked, wandered, sniffed, and worked some more.

Someone commented to me that it takes "patience" to train that way.

I've been thinking about that comment, because I don't consider myself a particularly patient person.   However, I am willing to make short term sacrifices if I believe it will fill a long term interest.  That is my perspective on distraction training with Lyra.

Today I videotaped Lyra working her articles - it's only about 20 seconds long.  There are a few things you need to know to understand this video.  First, this is only the second or third time that Lyra has worked articles outside of her training room.  Second, this is the first time I've worked her articles with balls and toys in the pile.  Finally, she came out of the house cold and did her articles after a few seconds of heeling (note the toys on the ground, which she is oblivious to).  She never touched a toy.

Here's the lesson that I take from this video.  Teach your dog to CHOOSE to ignore distractions rather than convincing them that you can MAKE them ignore distractions.  You might have to be patient for a few months, but after that the job is pretty much done.

Dogs that self train to ignore distractions are not stressed; there is nothing to stress about.  That allows them to perform work which requires thinking (articles, signals, directed jumping, Schutzhund out of motions) and not simply exercises that are performed by rote (AKC Novice and Open exercises and most of schutzhund).  People who compete in AKC and Schutzhund at the higher levels know which exercises are most likely to be failed - the ones that require decision making, and stressed dogs don't tend to make very good decisions.

Dogs who are not stressed generalize better.  I never taught Lyra that she had to ingore distractions when working articles; she simply understands the concept of work before play, so she puts her toy down and goes to work.

Dogs who are not stressed learn faster.  Now that Lyra is six months old and beginning to show some true drive and maturity, I can teach her anything very quickly.  She wants to work and loves to learn - my job is easy.

Dogs who are not stressed get off the toys and food more easily.  If your training is stressful, then you must rely on toys and food to reduce that stress.  If, on the other hand, you never created it in the first place, there's nothing to reduce.  Now you can focus on the joy that you have created in the work and in your interpersonal interactions.

Stress in the ring is a huge issue; ask anyone who is a trainer of competition dogs.  Some stress cannot be avoided; dogs shows can be very scary and overwhelming to many dogs, regardless of your training methods.  As a trainer you can avoid becoming part of the dog's problem; that is where you may wish to focus your energies.



If you have access I think it’s great. Right now I don’t have trials to take her to, and I seem to have plenty to work on just going to local parks and training groups! when she gets confident at those places then I’ll have to work harder to find matches and trials for exposure.


Kellie, at your stage of training I’d just end the session. Cheerfully, but he’s old enough to understand that if he chooses to check out, then you’ll choose to stop working with him at that time. I’ve just started that with Lyra, and I can see she understands why we stopped.

Kellie Ford

Okay, excellent. Sounds like a great time to pull out another dog to train for a few minutes then! I can do that – thanks :-) I must remember that I have choices too!!


How much other trial proofing are you doing at this point with Lyra? I started taking my last puppy to agility trials when she was about 6 months old, and having her sleep in her crate, go out and play and basically get used to commotion from that age on. Do you do the same for obedience trials or do you wait until the pup is older?

Kellie Ford

Denise, I loved both of these posts on distraction training and the dog choosing to work. As someone who has been following the blog and attempting to raise my puppy along these lines, I have a question on this. I could definitely start some of these things at home, but I’m not sure what to do in certain situations when I go train out at a field. When we go out, I wait for Ikon to show me he is ready to work and ask to work before we begin. And that just takes as long as it takes – some days and environments longer than others. But, if he becomes distracted by something on the ground such as a pinecone (I will use this as my example since it is a thorn in my side), he will grab the pinecone and lay down with it and chew. He doesn’t do any self-reinforcing on toys, but environmental objects sem to be different. If the dog does find an item to self-reinforce on and leave work, what would you suggest? I’m sure this would vary depending on their stage in training….

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