Simply put, we can say that we make our training more difficult in three ways: By increasing distance or duration and by adding distractions. However, never at the same time.
Working with distractions is a way to proof what we’ve trained the dog to do. If we get really creative and teach the dog the concept of distraction training – that a distraction is something the trainer is trying to trick him into going for, but that he won’t fall for – we get a dog that really knows his task at hand.
We can begin to add distractions already during puppyhood! There is always some little skill that the dog knows and that we can “try to distract him from”. (Although we want the dog to be successful most of the times, so naturally we won’t make things too difficult.) For example, we can add distractions during a sit by dropping things near the dog. At first gently but then increasing the difficulty and finally throwing things over the dog, recalling other dogs around him etc.
When the dog masters full exercises, we add different and increasingly difficult distractions at different places in the exercise.
A really good – and challenging – distraction that I worked on when Tassla was younger was working on casting inside a rabbit enclosure. With visible rabbits hopping about at a distance and lots of scent, Tassla was still be able to run in both the opposite and the same direction to retrieve. (I used food bowls this time, so we didn’t have to deal with the full retrieve and I could stop her and cast her again when she had finished eating out of the bowl.)
I also think that distraction training adds value to the exercise you’re working on. It’s like the dog becomes very certain of what to do and can generalize the distractions – at least to a great extent. The dog also becomes very skilled at listening to you. This makes me love this kind of training!
But there is always one thing that stands in the way of really using this training to its full advantage and that is my imagination. It’s so easy to simply keep doing what you’ve always done…