How To Use Distractions to Help Your Dog

Are you having trouble with your dogs’ attention span when doing things that scare them? When you find the right motivation, dogs are really pretty easily diverted.  When I am working with a client, I will use mostly food to capture the dogs’ attention – It’s really the only bargaining tool I have at the time. When we first meet I  have no bond with the dog and no trust built up.

As the training progresses, I can move from food, to toys, to affection. There are several times when you can use these same things when working with your dog. Here are two examples:

If you have a dog that is frightened of the vacuum cleaner, one of the best ways I’ve seen to overcome this is to leave the vacuum unplugged in the room that the dog is most in, making no sound, so that it becomes “boring.” You may need to keep it there for days.  If you need a little more motivation to get the dog to be around the vacuum cleaner, swipe a little peanut butter on the casing, so it becomes a good thing – your dog will begin to associate it with the good peanut butter. You can then turn the vacuum cleaner on, not moving for short periods of time, so that even when it’s on, it’s boring. Another occasion to use food for motivation would be at grooming time. Again, if there is stress at grooming time, leave the tools laying on a low table of floor so the dog can just get used to them – when it’s time to use them put some peanut butter in a Kong, or spread thinly on a flat surface so they are distracted by the peanut butter and not worried about the grooming going on.

I have also used small pieces of hot dog to lure a frightened dog into the great outdoors when needed – or back inside, or into the car, or down the road for a walk. The food tends to make the task not so scary, makes it a positive experience, and should make it easier to complete the next time. When your dog is distracted from the big scary thing it makes for a better experience and he will not be so afraid the next time.  Keep sessions short and always end sessions when things are going good. Using distraction is great for all kinds of issues – barking, whining, licking – take a minute to think of things your dog to stop doing during the day and start distracting them from it. It will soon become a habit not to do that thing.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at and on Facebook.

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