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Ask the Expert: How do I get my dog to ignore distractions when training outdoors?


Dear Experts,
My dog respects the fence 95% of the time, but once in a while he’ll spot a rabbit or bird and decide to bolt through the fence. How can I train my dog to stay safe when there are so many distractions around?
- Dave and Franklin, Perrysburg, OH

    Dear Dave (and Franklin),

    Whether you have a backyard chock full of wildlife, live in a busy neighborhood or have a big and boisterous family—rambunctious pups included—you can’t always ensure a distraction-free environment, which can certainly make training more challenging for both you and your pup. With distractions, you are competing with the environment and external stimuli and your dog needs to learn to make the right choice by watching you and paying attention to you.

    “Teach your dog to focus on you no matter where you are or what is going on around you,” says SpotOn certified trainer Rick Alto. “If your dog is not focused on you, you are not setting him up for success.”

    We’ve already discussed how training should take place in short, 15-minute increments, and that it should be fun for your pup… teaching your dog to focus is no exception! You can use attention games with food or treats to help Franklin gain focus – here is one Rick recommends:

    • Have your leashed dog sit in front of you; step on the leash to control their ability to move.
    • Take some food or treats in your hands, let your dog sniff them and then hold your hands out to the side (like a cross). Note: Your dog will stare intensely at your hands and possibly alternate between hands seeking the food and trying to understand what behavior they need to offer to be paid.
    • Once the dog makes eye contact with you, mark that behavior with a verbal marker (“yes”) or a clicker and repeat. Note: Timing is very important; you need to mark the look and then pay the dog.
    “Teach your dog to focus on you no matter where you are or what is going on around you,” says SpotOn certified trainer Rick Alto. “If your dog is not focused on you, you are not setting him up for success.”

      Repetition & Consistency

      “Make this game part of your daily routine until your dog gets it and doesn’t even look at your hands because they understand that the behavior you want is the look.” Rick says. “Once the dog looks at you, then you can add a verbal cue (like “look”) say, “look” and when they make eye contact, reward them.”

      Through repetition and consistency, your dog will learn that the tone means return to the safe zone every time, even with distractions present. Remember, if your dog experiences any difficulty, take a few steps back in their training to find a distraction they consistently succeeded with and start reintroducing higher level distractions. The key is to build distractions slowly and end every training session on a positive note.

      We hope this helps Franklin learn to ignore those pesky and tempting critters!

      Do you have questions for our experts? Either leave them in the comments below or email us.


      Rick Alto

      ExFed Dog Training 

      Rick is a certified professional dog trainer; graduate of the prestigious National K9 School for Dog Trainers in Columbus, Ohio; and a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) where he serves on the board of directors and oversees the service dog and legislative committees.

      His journey with dog training started when he was 10 years old and his mother brought home a standard poodle named Sam, who had been retired from the show ring and needed to learn ALL the basics. Friends and neighbors remarked at Rick’s innate ability with dogs and referred to him as the local “dog whisperer.”

      After a 36-year career as a special agent in federal law enforcement, Rick decided to “retire” and pursue his passion and fulfill his dream by entering the world of dog training full-time.

      As a dog trainer, Rick is dedicated to positive and effective training solutions that are balanced and fair for the dog. Rick is equally committed to furthering his education, allowing him to offer you the best possible training solutions and methods.


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