Puppy distraction training

Since Raiden was itty bitty we have done Look At That training with him on walks.


Whenever he saw something exciting (and to an 8 week old puppy that was EVERYTHING!) we made calm happy-talk and fed him treats.

As he got older some things stopped being as exciting (cars driving past, leaves blowing in the wind), other things became less exciting (a person walking past 30ft away) and some things stayed just as exciting (dogs playing, loud groups of people passing close by)!

Look At That is a fun training tool; reward the dog for something they see, and over time they will begin to see something then turn their attention to you. It especially works great with dogs who are nervous of things, eg. other dogs. It’s a good way to build a positive association.

For people, cars and cyclists passing us by it has been amazing. Raiden will now walk at my side, look at the ‘trigger’, then make eye contact with me as we carry on walking. It is so coolย โค

However we hit a stumbling block: when Raiden was *too* excited about something, marking him for watching the something didn’t help as he was too interested to be able to turn back to us.

So we’re trying the engage-disengage game!

The ‘engage’ part is how we were treating LAT; Raiden sees something exciting and we feed treats, whilst also increasing distance between him and the exciting thing. The extra space means he is calmer and can focus easier on us.

The disengage part is new, and is working really well. I’m going to use the example of dogs, as that is where we have seen the mostย progress.

Raiden was stood watching an old man and a small white dog across the water from us, only about 15ft away. We stand quiet whilst Raiden observes the dog, and then the instant he turns to us we mark him and give him a treat. He then goes back to the dog and is allowed to watch again, then when his attention shifts he gets more praise and treats.

We have only been trying this new method for the past few days, but the change is incredible. I was beginning to feel a little down with LAT; our progress had stalled, he wasn’t coming away from distractions as well and what were once mild distractions were becoming more interesting to him.

After trying engage / disengage he quietly watched and mostly put all his attention on me as SIX dogs walked past us roughly 30-40ft away. That might sound like a distance, but they actually felt close at the time. They were big dogs, four were off lead, and they were in clear view.

Previously Raiden would have been unable to look at us. He would have been standing fixed staring at the dogs, possibly pulling towards them and maybe even yapping. He wants to play with *every* dog he sees, and in this area that’s not at all possible. We really want to teach him to be calm around dogs he can’t meet, and to be able to focus on us.

I think this training is really going to help!

I have a (crap) video that shows some LAT / e-d but it’s hard to get any good footage when you’re juggling treats, clicker and a huge camera! I tried to clump the more training-y parts near the start of the video, and the rest is just cute off lead footage ๐Ÿ™‚

I really want Raiden to be able to see other dogs, but the issue around here is thatย everybody lets their dogs off lead, so when we see dogs up ahead we have no idea if they will be aggressive, scared of bouncy puppies etc etc. But I need Raiden to see other dogs desperately!

We put him on his longline when we see dogs in the distance, because he would blow off recall to go see them, but we then have the issue of Raiden focusing on them as they get closer…the frustration of the longline leads to pulling & yapping, which I don’t want to encourage!

I wish we could just let him bomb up to other dogs off lead, so he could feel free and confident and get to play, but I just don’t think it’s fair…I got so annoyed when people let their off lead dogs tear up to Zoey.

I mean I know we walked her places where dogs *shouldn’t* be walked off lead to avoid this, but it still doesn’t feel fair for my puppy to go bother other dogs…Raiden’s not that rude a player, and if a dog clearly shows they aren’t interested he generally leaves them alone, but would you be happy with this?

Anybody have any thoughts or ideas?


Thanks for any help!

Everywhere is so muddy and floody at the moment that I am uberย glad I found some work wellies in a charity shop for ยฃ5 before we ran out of money!! They feel so sturdy and have steel toes ๐Ÿ˜€


And the rest of the pics from the walk ๐Ÿ™‚

We had a high tide AND flooding from the rain to deal with!

The rain mainly affected the roads and the start of the walk, and the sea obliterated most of the path we were planning to take. There was literally a whole expanse of beach that you can normally walk on completely submerged…it was a VERY high tide!

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All in all a pretty good walk ๐Ÿ™‚



10 thoughts on “Puppy distraction training

  1. I definitely agree that letting him bomb over to people is a bad idea. Even without taking those strange dogs into the equation…. When Laufey was a puppy I ended up being goaded into letting him off lead (my own fault but anyway, my point remains) once they start being allowed to do it, they think they can always do it and it becomes a nightmare. He would take off to the other side of the park at the first hint of a dog and had no concept of dog body language telling him to back off. It was awful. At 2, he’s much better and it’s rare that he does this now but it took a hell of a lot of work and much frustration and embarrassment to get there. Honestly, I wouldn’t do it just to save yourself the stress of fixing “I can go say hi to anyone and everyone”.

    I’d probably keep him on the long line and encourage him to disengage from the dogs and reward the disengage with then being allowed to play if you think that’s appropriate and then work on recalling from play at the same time (two birds one stone and all that)

    • Okay, this is very helpful and pretty much what I was hoping for, thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

      So in a situation where the other dog is off lead, I’m thinking we will create some space, reward disengagement, and try have Rey focus on me. If the other dog comes over to initiate play, or the owners are close enough for me to ask them, we will drop Rey’s longline and off he goes. He’s been great at coming away from play when called so far, so that’s good.

      My main issue with having to keep him on a longline and do LAT type thing is that other people seem to think, because he’s on a lead, he’s aggressive, and so they don’t stick about. After all everyone else lets their dogs off lead however bad their recall is! I reeeaaally want Rey to get to meet other dogs because it hardly ever happens ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      What would you do on a narrow path, with no room to the side and no trails leading off it? This is one of our problem situations. Currently we either tuck in and do LAT, give a “let’s go” and try walk in the opposite direction, or pick Raiden up and dole out treats for being quiet and calm. With a dog passing so close we will get pulling and yapping, and I don’t want that to become a behaviour he relies on.

      Had an incredible walk with Raiden today; a ton of distraction work (twice with other dogs), walked beautifully on lead, awesome off lead, dropped his toy and things he found every time I asked etc. I just want him to get to meet dogs!

      Thanks again ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I wish I had people take a hint and avoid us sometimes! Around here there isn’t really a sense of “oh that dog’s on lead so best avoid it”but I can see how it would be annoying with a puppy you’re trying to socialise. I think a lot of it is just finding people clued in to body language (easier said than done!).
        We don’t have many narrow paths where we walk but my approach would depend which dog I have – if it’s MiMi I’d probably resort to just pick her up and completely remove her as fast as possible but she can’t cope with a dog on the opposite side of the road at this point. With Laufey, I would literally just have a constant stream of treats at Rey’s age, no breaks, no looking just treat it as serious counter conditioning with high reward and decrease it as you can from there. In theory, it should be able to progress to a more obvious looking LAT exercise quite quickly. He sounds like he’s coming on in leaps and bounds so probably won’t take him long, it’s finding the dogs to work with that sounds more of an issue!

      • Thank you so much ๐Ÿ™‚

        Socialisation has been so hard around here…there are just too many rude / aggressive dogs, and most the time we just don’t see dogs at all. We can go for weeks, walking in all different places at different times, and see no dogs. The most frustrating thing is that we used to see off lead dogs that rushed Zoey all the time, even by roads, but we just see the wrong dogs with Raiden :/

        I also hate how every dog behaviour book you read talks about getting friends / family members to help out with their dogs…there’s one dog in our family & it’s untrained and very aggressive, so no. There aren’t even any decent training / socialisation classes local to us.

        I guess it’s okay if Raiden grows up to be calm around dogs and focuses on me, but doesn’t play with them…I just feel like he’s missing out!

      • Bless you, we see loads around here it’s just never ending, difficult to get MiMi out when they’re everywhere and just rude. We don’t see many outright aggressive ones but they have no manners. We have no family dogs. Few friends have but Laufey’s only let 3, one is completely fine but the owner is a “small doses” kind of friend and her other dog is terrified of Laufey and the other we used to take regular walks with but I don’t agree with on training which makes it difficult. I think classes will always be hit and miss because you need to find a trainer you gel with, not necessarily just agree with on paper. Don’t feel like he’s missing out, one of the best pieces of advice I ever say was that dogs don’t actually need to make friends and it’s usually pretty stressful for most dogs. But you never know, one day you could find some excellent dogs that are great candidates to play with!

      • Every time I read / am told that dog-on-dog play is not important, it makes me feel so much better ๐Ÿ™‚

        From a young age it was rammed down my throat that dogs *need* to play with other dogs on walks, and I just need to remember that it’s totally not true…dogs can be just as happy exploring, playing fetch, doing training on walks etc. I was also brought up with the belief that EVERY dog needs to be walked off lead no matter what, and it was years before I realised how much BS that was ๐Ÿ˜‰

        We used to see dogs all the time with Kasper & Zoey, although most were either rude or aggressive (almost always off lead, too…), but since Raiden was about 5 months old we’ve barely seen any. I guess it’s the weather, the cold and the early nights :/

        I feel you on how hard it is to walk fearful dogs. When Zoey got to the point where she was scared of larger dogs and focused so intensely on any dog she saw, it was a nightmare walking her because nowhere was safe. Thankfully she’s such a lazy dog we saved walking her until 9pm onwards, and took her on massive hikes then ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I was in the same boat, hence so easily goaded into letting Laufey off lead when I really shouldn’t have. I think you’re doing an excellent job with Kasper and Rey and did so well with Zoey too. The weather is definitely a huge one, we see no where near as many at the minute as we do in summer but we still see a huge amount which in some ways is quite surprising. 9pm is far too late for me, I’m about going to bed then! Granted I am up at 4.30 for work but still, I couldn’t be heading out at 9 :O

      • Thank you thank you thank you ^__^

        Hahaha yeah, my sleep was really messed up the last few months of having Zoey, I think it was the stress…I ended up nocturnal which made walking her so easy, but I did get bored of only going out in the dark ๐Ÿ˜€

        At the moment I’m going to bed at 9pm and getting up at 7am…I still want to adjust / reduce it a little but I’m glad I’m actually sleeping and at a fairly normal time haha!

      • Sounds like hell, at least you’re managing to get back to normal! I’m sure as the weather improves and it gets lighter you’ll be out and meeting even more dogs ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Pingback: Happy 8 months Raiden! | Scarlybobs' Blog

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