When I was eight years old, my parents adopted a puppy for me from our local humane society. Being an incredibly creative kid, I named her “Puppy.” She was a Boston Terrier/Beagle mix with a lot of attitude and even more energy. Within the first few weeks, she was with us, we decided that she needed to learn some manners. My parents signed me up to take her for dog training.
Puppy and I would practice dog training at home all week. She was smart, and I was determined that I would have the best-trained dog in the world. She learned quickly, and I was proud of her and myself… until it was time for our weekly group class. When Puppy and I went into that class full of other kids and their dogs, she would lose her mind. She didn’t listen, didn’t focus, and didn’t perform the way I knew she could. It was embarrassing. I got to the point where I didn’t want to go to class with her. We stopped group class and Puppy never became a doggie movie star.
Now, I know more about dog training and the ways that dogs learn. I’m going to give you some information that would’ve saved me a ton of frustration if I’d known it when I started training Puppy. There are three D’s that we need to keep in mind when our dogs are learning or trying to perfect new behaviors.
The 3 D’s of dog training:
This refers to how far we are from our dog when we’re trying to teach them a new behavior. A common mistake that most owners make is trying to put too much distance between themselves and their dog too quickly. Keep distance at a minimum at the beginning and increase it slowly in small increments as your dog begins to learn.
This one has to do with how long we ask our dog to perform the behavior we’re teaching them. If our dog is learning to sit and we ask him to hold that sit for 10 seconds when he just learned that “sit” means to put his bottom on the floor, that’s setting him up for failure. Instead, start with instantaneous reward, then build duration slowly, in tiny increments—only when your dog is ready for those increases.
Look—a squirrel!!! Like the other two, distraction is something we often rush our learning dogs into. Noise, people, traffic, other animals… distractions are everywhere. While learning to work around them is important, it’s even more important to start small and set your dog up to succeed. Only move forward with increases to distraction when your dog is comfortable performing the behavior without any. Make increases slowly and in tiny increments.
Here’s the last bit of advice for using our 3 D’s: to increase one D, the other two need to stay at a lower level. If you increase distance, then distraction and duration should be reduced. To increase duration, reduce distance and distraction. Get it? It’s an easy equation that leads to success with dog training.