Distractions do not HAVE to ruin your training experience with your dog! You can get through distractions! Really you can!
The key to distraction work is controlling distance. I don't care how distracted your dog gets by something. There is some distance from the distraction where your dog can still think and look at you. In today's video, you'll see Halo HIGHLY distracted by a large flock of swallows in our training space. You'll see us working through the distances until finally we can venture out into the middle of them, briefly. She got consequences for every choice she made about the distractions, and, in a nutshell, here were her choices and they were limited:
Choice #1: Go after the distraction/lunge/pull. Consequence: Handler takes her away from the area.
Choice #2: Stand there, stare at the distraction, not lunging but not paying attention to the handler either. Consequence: Continue to stand there. (This is not a consequence that many working dog trainers would offer to their dog, but because of Halo's age there is still much of the world that she needs to just "take in" on a socialization level.) For an older dog, a failure to check-in with the handler would received a different consequence.)
Choice #3: Check-in with handler, maintain connection. Consequence: Handler continues into the interesting area, also, treats!
That's it. The three choices, and each choice with its corresponding consequence. The trainers job is simply to provide the pre-decided consequence for each choice. Easy-peasy, right?
But do remember what I said about the distances. Distances are crucial because you want the dog to be able to make any one of the choices with ease. If we had started the session by just wandering smack into the middle of the birds, Halo would likely have *never* chose "Hey, I'll check in here with my handler!" It wouldn't have even been on her radar. But, a bit farther away, when the birds were slightly less distracting, she could make that choice a couple of times. After some reinforcements of that particular choice, she was more likely to make the choice again even in a harder situation. More reinforcements, and now it was getting to be a stronger and stronger behavior that could hold its own even as the situation gets tougher.distance" (you might have to set up a special training session for this.) Then go out there and work far, closer, closer, closest! Don't get closer until your dog is doing lots of good stuff at farther distances. Your consequences might be slightly different; your dogs choices might be slightly different. Figure out the choices and consequences first, then go ahead and get to work!