Dog training

A Deep Dive into the Three Ds of Dog Training: Distance, Time, and Distractions

By Joan Hunter Mayer

We live in a fun world, and so can our pet dogs! We expect a lot from them – ignore that smell, leave that pile of trash alone, ignore that barking dog behind the fence. It can be hard for your dog to focus on training when the world is so interesting. That’s why we recommend 3D training. The 3D training concepts are: Distance, duration and distractions.

Let’s take a look at each of these three Ds and how honing them can help you in your dog training endeavors!

Distance

First consider, how far away can you be from your dog when you report a behavior and he continues to perform that behavior? It might be easy for a dog to come when called, for example, when you’re standing indoors in the same room, but if Fido is 10 or 20 feet away, it’s harder.

On the other hand, you’ll also want to ask, how does the space between your dog and a distraction affect Fluffy’s ability to perform cued behavior? Sometimes being closer to something can make a behavior more difficult. For example, the closer she is to a temptation competing for her attention, the harder it can be to focus on you and listen to the cues. (More on distractions in a moment.)

Distance is a training metric where expecting too much too soon can risk delaying your training efforts. But if it happens, it’s fine. Move back (or move closer), simplify things, and try again.

Duration

Duration is simply how long you ask your dog to perform a specific behavior. When you think about it, many of the things we ask dogs to do (i.e. stay or wait) are behaviors we’d like them to start and then keep doing until they’re done. ‘they stop.

Similar to distance, duration is something that needs to be worked on slowly, second by second. Also, remember to use a cue, like “you’re free,” to clearly release your dog from the behavior each time. Consistency is the key.

Entertainment

Now back to where we started: distractions. For training sessions to be successful, dogs need to be aware and present. So consider the following:

  • Initially, when teaching a new behavior, hold the practice in a location with fewer distractions. For example, when practicing walking on a loose leash, it makes sense to start training in a quiet place inside the house. (Unless your house looks like an amusement park.)
  • Do your best to be aware of distractions around your dog at all times and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • In addition to having your dog’s full attention, parents also need to be aware and present! If we expect a certain degree of commitment from our curious dogs, we must show them the same respect. This might require you to rethink your workout plan and schedule and make adjustments. (Close the laptop, put your phone away, turn off the TV.)
  • Distractions are everywhere, so it’s important to gradually incorporate controlled distractions into your training.

By now you’ve probably noticed, what 3D training concepts all have in common is that gradual change here is critical to success. So if you and your curious dog are struggling to meet your training goals, it may be worth thinking about how you can revise your teaching plan by adjusting distance, time, and/or distractions.

Remember that for behaviors that your dog has already mastered, only increase the difficulty once he has excelled at the easiest level. When you make one of the 3D variables harder, it helps make the others easier, or at least leave them unchanged. So if you add distance to your recall, make sure the level of distraction is less than or comparable to what it was. If you increase the length of a requested stay, do so first in a less intrusive area. And if you’re working on harder distractions, don’t expect so much duration from your canine student. Self-control can be a limited resource!

We hope this deep dive into training concepts will help you find practical, passive solutions to everyday challenges and strengthen the bond you have with your curious dog!


The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Joan Hunter Mayer, Santa Barbara Certified Canine Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Joan and her team are dedicated to providing humane, peaceful and practical solutions that work for the challenges that dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Let’s bark with the dogs, encourage the humans and have fun!