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Why Trying To Distract Your Dog To Prevent Reactivity May Be A Bad Idea



If your dog is reactive to things on walks then you’ve probably tried many things to change the behavior. A common thing that pet parents attempt is distracting their dog. Distracting seems to make sense. If your dog is distracted then they’re not going to notice the trigger and everything should be fine. Right? Unfortunately it may not work as intended. The thing is, dogs quickly figure out what predicts what. If you are able to completely distract your dog to the point where they never notice the trigger, it should always work. Unfortunately though dogs that are reactive to things are often hard to distract completely. They may be “in” to whatever it is you have, but they generally still have one eye facing the other way to see what’s going on. This is where the problem arises.

If you are able to completely distract your dog to the point where they never notice the trigger, it should always work.

The problem, from a training perspective, is the “wrong order of events.” What this ultimately means is that when you start to distract your dog with that handful of food, your dog starts to figure out that the next thing that happens is the trigger appears. What does this lead to? It means that in the future, when you go to distract your dog, your dog sees this and goes, “hey, I know what’s actually happening here.” Often dogs will stop falling for it after just a handful of attempts.


What this ultimately means is that when you start to distract your dog with that handful of food, your dog starts to figure out that the next thing that happens is the trigger appears.

If you’re going to try to distract your dog, you’ll need to do it in a way that is as close to foolproof as possible. This means that you’ll need to use something valuable and also step behind something that serves as a visible barrier. From a training standpoint, the overall goal when decreasing reactivity is to turn the trigger into the predictor of either food, or a behavior and then food. When done correctly you’ll see your dog notice the trigger and then either perform the behavior you’ve asked for or look back on their own because they’ve started to make the connection.

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