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Protecting our dog’s confidence is one of the most important things that we can do in preparing our dogs for the ring. At the same time, we need to prepare our dogs for the distractions that are often present at a trial. Confidence and adding distractions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together really well. It’s all in how we add distractions that becomes either a confidence builder or a confidence breaker.

When we pick distractions that are easy for the dog, we can celebrate when the dog says “I can ignore that distraction!” We can do lots of that and watch our dog’s confidence and reliability soar! It’s important to know when to push to the next level to prevent our training from plateauing and becoming stagnant. When we push, eventually the dog is going to struggle.

There comes a time when we ask the dog to do a skill and the distractions are suddenly bigger than the dog can handle and we don’t know what to do to help the dog get back on track. We want to maintain the dog’s confidence and we want to prevent associating stress with our dog’s skills but oftentimes we just don’t know how to get the dog back on track and back to reliability with that skill quickly. The options for getting the dog back on track are long. We can lure another skill and then try again. We can help the dog by pointing out the behavior that we want. We can reward the dog anyway. We can call the dog back to us before the dog completes the skill and then try it again. When we are working on a skill that requires duration such as stays or heeling, there are more things to consider because rewarding the dog for choosing to lie down in the middle of the sit stay might build the lying down in the midde to the stay sequence in the dog’s mind. Dogs that are more fragile need a different reset then dogs who tend to be more confident. We really want to look at the dog that is in front of us and pick a reset that works well for that dog and for the skill that we are teaching.

Ultimately whether you are able to set up errorless learning or whether you make some mistakes and need to help your dog along the way, adding distractions and maintaining reliablitiy is an important part of properly preparing your dog for trialing in any sport!

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Tomorrow is the last day to join my online class “Proof Positive”. We are focusing on building the dog’s confidence with distractions for a variety of behaviors. Some teams are working on agility skills such as weaving and 1 jump skills. Some are working on sits, downs, hand touches and heeling. Some teams are working on signals and drop on recalls and go outs. There is a little bit for everyone!

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