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The “Go To” Game and Distractions – Karen Phillips

So here we are at month five and the final instalment of the “go to” game where we have shown how to train a puppy to go to his mat and stay there until asked to leave.  Last month we worked on duration of the behaviour in different locations around your house.  This month it’s time to work on distractions so that ultimately you can take your dog and mat where ever you go and be able to get him to lie quietly like I do with Riot.

Distraction training is part of “proofing” the behaviour.  Proofing is what a dog trainer will do to make sure that no matter what, a dog will perform the behaviour.  For example, getting to a stage where your dog will stay on the mat even if a cat ran past.  To get to that point you must first introduce low level distractions.

Before starting it is important to have observed what your puppy or dog considers being quite dull as opposed to something that is very interesting and subsequently distracting.  This will allow you to choose a nice easy starting point so that he can be successful.  An example of a low level distraction may be you dropping a small dog biscuit on the floor ten metres away from where your pup is laying on the mat.  A high level distraction may be a favourite family member walking right up to him as he is lying there.

Once you have decided what low level distraction you are going to use, you are ready to get started.  I tend to start with using food such as dry dog biscuits that the pup likes but isn’t crazy about to begin distraction training.  Have these readily available as well as a higher value reward for your pup such as sausage or chicken.

Ask your pup to go to his mat and then move about five metres away.  If he gets up and comes to you straight away then you are not ready for this stage.  You need to go back to the Better Pets and Gardens January newsletter and do some more work on duration and distance.

Once you are about five metres away put the dog biscuit on the ground.  If your pup stays on the mat go and give him a reward (not the biscuit).  It is important that you take the reward to the pup whilst he is still lying on the mat.  If he gets up at any point without being told, he should not receive the reward.

As your pup is successful start to move closer until you are able to stand next to him and put the biscuit on the floor without him getting off the mat to grab it.   If he does attempt to get the biscuit (which is a big temptation when it is next to them) be very quick to grab it before he gets to it otherwise he is rewarding himself for the incorrect behaviour.  As always punishment is not necessary if he makes a mistake.  By simply rewarding correct behaviour and not rewarding incorrect behaviour the pup will quickly figure out what is required.

Over a period of time you can increase the level of distraction by presenting the pup with different challenges.  Don’t be concerned if he fails during some of these exercises.  Part of your pup learning is him understanding that the behaviour you want is for him to stay on the mat no matter what.  If he fails it simply means he doesn’t get the reward so it should make him want to work even harder to get it right!

Don’t forget, all sessions should be timed.  For example, your first session should not go for any more than a couple of minutes and there must be an end point when you’re going to finish the session.  As they gain a better understanding of the length of time that suits, you can gradually increase the sessions.  Remember that puppies have a lower concentration span so don’t be tempted to make it too long.

When the time is up give the puppy permission to get off the mat and then lavish him with praise and a huge cuddle or even a game of tug with his favourite toy.

Once he is being consistently successful with a particular distraction, increase the level of distractions presented to him without making it too for the stage that he is at.


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