Dealing with Distractions

Most dogs will perform commands like rock stars at home, but once out in the big world, all is forgotten.

I like to get dogs and owners out and about to hone skills and build confidence on both ends of the leash. I met an eager client and her lively pit bull puppy, Mia, at a busy Home Depot last weekend so we could put this into practice. We certainly didn’t lack for real-life distractions. There were twin Yorkies in a cart pushed by a friendly woman in gardening gear, rumbling forklifts, power saws, and manly men stomping around in boots and hardhats.

In the face of distractions, the "come" command is a powerful tool to turn the dog’s focus away from temptation and back to the owner.

Try these three steps on the home front before venturing out in public:

  • Bend your knees and extend a hand out at the dog’s eye level.
  • Say, “Come!” and draw the extended hand in toward your body as if pulling a string
  • As the dog moves toward you, take two steps backward and praise her!

The steps above are a nearly irresistible invitation to your dog, especially if the outstretched hand holds a prize. Of all the possible commands to master, "come" can get your dog out of a tight spot and back to you in a flash.

Pack some tasty treats and a high value toy to compete with dizzying distractions on any field trip with your dog. Mia’s keen interest in a simple tennis ball provided enough incentive at first, but the yapping Yorkies in the cart were stiff competition for her attention. Mia’s owner stayed on task with lots of encouraging body language and the next two attempts yielded better results. The third time was the charm. The cart rolled away and Mia started to follow, but then turned back toward her owner with a gleam in her eye. Mia had anticipated the "come" command and complied with a smile.

What are your go-to commands when out in public with your dog?