In our last blog, Making Distraction Training Practical, we talked about how to easily store and use distractions for our container work. I also introduced the concept of thinking about training Discrimination first and Impulse Control second. What this means is that you need to be thoughtful in the selection of your distraction.

Some Distractions are Distracting and Some Distractions are Alluring

The basic idea of a distraction is to increase your dog’s commitment to target odor by choosing to not become engaged with something that is “off topic” to the search. With every sniff, my dog is sorting through odor and dismissing odor that is not on their list of target odors. I want my dog to stay true to that target odor even when the going gets tough. I can achieve this in part with gradually increasing enticements in the form of container distractions.

You Get What you Reinforce

Many trainer have said this in many ways, but it comes down to behavioral science. If you want to increase something, you have to reinforce it. For me, I prefer to set up sessions that create what I want. I want a dog with Bulletproof odor obedience and focus on finding target odor and ONLY target odor. This means that I can (and should) challenge the dog, but not set the dog up to get so engrossed in the distraction that target odor becomes an afterthought.

Remember how we talked about how yummy BBQ Ribs were to Judd? He found those SO enticing that while trialing in Elite, he false alerted on the same distraction in two different Elite trials. That was before I got on the Distraction Train! By the time he got to Summit, we worked out the kinks and he learned to ignore container distractions completely.

In this video, you can see Judd ignore Filet Mignon as well as 11 other distractions during a Summit Search. In this search, we knew that there were 3 hides and we were given 2:30. We found all 3 hides very quickly and I walked away feeling like it was a NW2 search. Not so! Judd ignored the distractions completely! (Note: My training on container behavior has changed SIGNIFICANTLY… Judd was trained initially when the sport was very young and smashing boxes was less of an issue… Since then, I train my dogs for a non-destructive, passive indication)

Judd Sandwich, IL Summit Trial 2018: 3 Hides, 2:30 Container Distraction Blitz

You want ALL of your distraction work to feel EASY!! You want it to feel like this Summit Level search.

Start with Easy Distractions

When we train our dog, we want the distraction to feel like a mild tickle. That way, the distraction starts to act like background noise while your dog successfully finds target odor. Use the mundane. Stay away from carbs and proteins.

Start with fruits and vegetables and use small portions in your distraction containers.
Start with fruits and vegetables and use small portions in your distraction containers.

As you start to swap out distractions with each search repetition, you can start to add in one or two more challenging distractions. A good tule of thumb is the more “naughty” the food, the more your dog will also be enticed!

Your dog like carbs and proteins too!  Don't forget that dog treats and dog kibble fall in THIS category!
Your dog like carbs and proteins too! Don’t forget that dog treats and dog kibble fall in THIS category!

Train Discrimination first and Impulse Control second

What this means is that first your dog needs to learn that target odor is “This Not That”. Basic level distraction training helps to solidify this understanding. Sometimes I will use chemical smells that the dog might encounter while searching. I select distractions that I can find in my bathroom, such as soap and toothpaste that I put on small round makeup pads for use in my containers as distractions. These scents are not “yummy” but they can teach the dog to ignore novel odors. (As with all distraction training, make sure that your dog cannot physically consume the distraction as a matter of safety.)

Impulse Control is all about ignoring the alluring distraction. In our D’s of Detection Podcast, we refer to these things as “Diversions”. The Diversion is a sort of distraction that is meant to divert the dog’s attention. Diversions are alluring. I have Labradors, so I can tell you that their list of what is alluring is quite extensive!

I am sure that Filet Mignon was very alluring to Judd (I mean I personally would prefer a nice Filet over Birch, wouldn’t you?), however his lack of attention to the Diversion of a great steak was a testament to his training in distractions. He had laser focus on target odor!

Start EASY and go from there!!

Tomorrow, November 3rd, marks the 3rd anniversary of losing Judd, my incredible dog, to cancer. Hug your K9 partner. Enjoy your training. Training is not a task or box to check. Training is one of the facets that builds your relationship with a truly incredible creature who let’s you into their alternate universe where you can experience the world through their nose.