The 3Ds of Dog Training: Duration, Distance, and Distraction

You will often hear trainers talking about the importance of training with the ‘3Ds’. They help to solidify behaviours we’ve taught our dogs and proof their reliability for different environments. For example, you may want your dog to do an “Emergency Stop” away from you. Or be able to “Stay” at the side of a road while lorries go by. Or perhaps keep close by your side whilst walking in exciting places. No matter what you are training, you will be likely to include the ‘3Ds’ at some point. Eventually, you may work on all of them at once…but that is usually after a lot of practice. Initially, you’ll want to work on one at a time.

In sports like Competitive Obedience or Agility, dogs need to be able to perform skills away from their handler. In Obedience, distance skills are only involved at the highest and second-highest levels. For Agility, you may see handlers leaving their dog at the start line. The key in these sports is that the dog is able to perform tasks away from the handler. At home, you can work on distance. Tricks like “Send to Bed” usually involve the bed/mat being further away from the guardian once the dog understands the behaviour. You can also work on proximity to some sort of distraction as well – a reverse approach to distance. Reactive dog guardians tend to be experts at this – knowing how close their dog can be to a trigger before reacting. At home, it could be how close can your dog get to the open dishwasher before successfully being called away. The closer they are to something can be as much of a challenge as to how far they are from you.

The most common use for Duration is with a “Stay”. Realistically, a lot of behaviours require duration. Heelwork is asking the dog to be in one position relative to your body for an unspecified length of time. Waiting to cross a road requires your dog to hold a static position to keep themselves safe until a break in traffic. There are some tricks you may find your dog can keep doing for a long time easily. Like us, if it is enjoyable for them, they will keep going. The key here is not to make huge jumps in duration. If you’ve ever tried to train a reliable “Stay”, you know there are many steps between achieving a 10 second “Stay” and one for 2 minutes. Remember, the duration doesn’t need to increase with each repetition. Varying the amount of time you ask your dog to maintain a behaviour for will ultimately make them more likely to succeed. Your dog is less likely to give up if you do a 10-second “Stay” after a 20-second one.

Moving onto Distraction – often the hardest of the 3 to work on. It can be easier to work on distance and duration as we are more able to control them. But distraction? Only your dog knows what they find distracting. Yes, you may have a very good idea, but it is them that decides in the end. And not all distractions are created equal – even on the same day. This is also why we tend to work on distraction last. We like behaviours to be well known before we take them into the real world. You’ll hear us say practice in a ‘low distraction environment’ – meaning at home or in your garden. ‘High distraction environments’ are places like the park or maybe a garden centre. Suddenly there is a lot more that can cause your dog’s focus to drift. Distraction can also be impacted by your own behaviour. Does the dog have your full focus? Their behaviours are often practised with us almost staring at them initially. Your dog may not be able to cope to hold a behaviour when you are suddenly distracted – for example, on the phone or making food.

So, we want to work on these separately, right? That is easier said than done! If you’re working on being further away, you are generally adding duration. If you’re asking for duration, there are likely to be more distractions! In our Barket Club, we work through a Relaxation Protocol. It is a great example of working on each skill individually whilst subtlety starting to include others. You can be working on a 10-second sit, 5 seconds, then clapping your hands. It could help inspire your next training session. Why not come and join us?