You’re at the park and it’s a beautiful, sunny day. Naturally, lots of other people decided to spend their Saturday at the park too. You’re surrounded by barking dogs, screaming children, blasting music, tied up balloons, balls flying everywhere, even a goose or a squirrel or a bunny rabbit running up the trees and across the fields. A child walks up to you and says “I love your dog! Can I pet him?” You look at your furry best friend and say a simple word.. “sit.” He tries to hear you but the screaming children and barking dogs win. His ears shift to capture their sounds more efficiently. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees the bounding rabbit and has to fight every urge to go after it – not to mention that bright blue ball bouncing across the green grass. But he notices the child still waiting patiently to pet him. He knows what he has to do to get pets. He starts to bring his butt to the floor when… his nose fills with an amazing odor of grilling hot dogs and BBQ chicken. Must. Have. Chicken.
Many of us believe that once our dog learns a command, he knows it. Not necessarily. He may know it in the calmness and safety of your living room or even on your everyday walk. But add new distractions and chaos to the mix and all recollection goes out the window. You’re probably thinking, so what? I just can’t expect anything from my dog in those situations? Of course not! But, it’s your job to prepare him for those situations.
Take your dog to the park with the sole purpose of training. Practice all of his normal, boring basic obedience commands in front of every possible distraction. But here’s the key. Don’t just repeat commands while he’s flooded with stimuli and not listening or responding. You have to make yourself more exciting than all of those children, dogs, bunnies, balloons, balls, etc. You have to be the hot dogs and the BBQ chicken. Bring your highest value treat. The treat your dogs would do backflips for. Now his focus is on you.
Do not underestimate value. It is not bribery. You are competing with Disneyland every time you’re in an exciting place. You need to win that competition and it won’t happen unless you teach them that you are a rewarding person to listen to in every circumstance. The backflip treats will only be necessary until your dog understands what you expect in those places and that he is capable of making those decisions.
Good luck training!