Distractions! It’s a big topic, and questions about distractions are frequent. I’ve blogged about this before, and today I’m sharing a formula that will help you strategically work through whatever is a distraction for your dog.
I call the formula the “Distraction Intensity Index” and covered it on a recent podcast. If you’ve not watched or listened to that episode yet, you’ll want to check out “Help for the Dog who Chases Chipmunks, Bicycles, and the Neighbour’s Cat”. It’s Episode 24 of Shaped By Dog.
Cats, squirrels, chipmunks, bicycles, kangaroos, children, birds, balls, food, lizards, butterflies, dogs, people …. the list of your dog’s distractions will depend on your dog, and while many can be used to your advantage some should be off limits. We still need to deal with our dog’s off limit distractions, but they can’t be used as rewards.
Distraction Intensity Index (DII)
There are four things you need to determine to use the DII for the benefit of you and your dog.
The first is the value of the distraction to your dog. Use a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being lowest and 10 the highest. How much does your dog want whatever it is? And if you’ve not made a distraction list, you can start now, I’ve got tips on my blog post “How Do I Train My Dog to Come When Called”.
You’ll need to know how far or how close the distraction is for your dog. When putting in a number, it’s arbitrary. Say the distraction is a bunny. If the bunny is one foot away, the number you put in might be 1000 or 10,000, whatever you decide. If the bunny is a mile away, then that value might be a 1. Choose a number based on your dog’s distractions. If you are consistent with your arbitrary number your DII calculation will always be relevant for you.
What senses does the distraction engage for your dog? Sight, sound, smell. Depending on your dog, some senses will be higher rated than others.
Is the distraction on the move? If so, the number you put in will likely be higher than if the distraction is not moving. You decide based on your dog. As long as you are consistent with how you put in the numbers, your DII is going to be an asset for you to make good training decisions.
The formula for the DII is Value x Distance x Senses Engaged x Movement. The higher the number you calculate, the higher the distraction intensity.
Help Your Dog by Reducing the DII
Your goal with your DII calculation is to get the number down so you can work through the distraction challenge with your dog. What do you need to do to reduce that number? Increasing your distance from the distraction is one of the first things to consider. Get success with one element of the DII and only then introduce others.
Rating your dog’s distractions will let you know what is fair to expect of your dog with the education you have given him in the environment he is in. Start where your dog can have success and grow that success. Only work on one element of the Distraction Intensity Index at one time.
The more education your dog has, the more he’ll be able to face by way of distractions without losing focus on you. The intensity of the distraction will reduce for your dog with your commitment to helping him. Remember to check out my podcast episode on video for the examples I gave.
Your DII Evaluation: What I’d like you do to is pick one of your dog’s distractions and calculate the DII. Let me know in the comments your dog’s name, the distraction you selected, the DII, and how you can reduce the DII to help your dog.
Today I am grateful for the joy that Stevie, David, Alexis and Moira bring (Momentum’s puppies). Below is a pic from yesterday at 3 weeks, eyes are open, and they are on the move.
For everyone who is not on Facebook, here’s a quick video posted on on my page a couple of days ago, starring Stevie Budd as “The Persistent Puppy”.
Kai is a 2 2 year old male Rhodesian Ridgeback with high Prey drive. Squirrels deer groundhog bunnies cats and geese will get him lunging. We have been working on watching and checking in at a distance. He can now pass geese with no problems. Deer at a distance of 50 ft, squirrels at 30 ft cats at 30-40 ft groundhogs are on the other side of fence so that one is tough. I allow him to smell the tree if he can wait for squirrels to climb the tree. He isn’t a 100% but has come a long way in 6 months.
My dog’s name is Jimmy. He is a 3 year old Golden Doodle. His arousal level gets very high when he is within 50 metres of a moving dog (or any animal). The only way I can help him at the moment is to move away in the opposite direction. He will often still take food but it is more a snatch and look back at distraction.
hello. my name is Ioana and my 3.5 years old rescue dog is Dala. Dala was a stray dog although she resemble very much with a Border Collie. She was bitten by humans and she developed fear and sort of reaction towards those people or similar situation. (someone standing suddenly , or picking some stick or garden tool). we had har after she spent her 1,5 years on the street. we worked with her first to gain her trust, giving her the sense of safety and love. after more than a year she became a very different dog. but the socialisation was not happened. we took her to a socialisation class and she learnt to play with dogs and let people cuddle her. she is very clever and learn quickly obedience cues and toys name for retrieving and putting in the toy box. she is fine inside and she is cam outside. she is 90% ok but there are still triggers as some people she smells being not trustful, or skateboards on th ramp – most the noise is unpleasant. she is lunging and barking. this is the worst. but she is always on leash, even wearing a gentle leader in public for good measures. we took her in parc and gave her good treats when the triggers were closer and step by step she became more confident and more calm. our bond is very good but there are moments when we are stressed and concerned. fro example if a runner passes her from behind and surprises her she is lunging at him possible with biting intention. no treats or cue helps. only to remove her from the situation as quickly as possible. passing by means less than 1m. she is doing her best most of the time but we have more to work with her. a little direction from you on how to go farther and better would be great. for the moment we can’t afford “the recoilers” but we hope to join in this autumn eventually. nice voice, treats, cues and close to us in a leash is where we reached our limits. we tried “it’s your choice” game but we are not very sure how to build towards these kinds of problems. Many thanks for your answer and help. Dala and Ioana
She is a lucky dog to have you to rescue her. You have already achieved a great deal. Well done.
My dog currently lives with her biggest distraction, the cats 🤦🏻♀️ We have yet to discover a way that works to make cohabitation easier.
The Persistant Puppy is hilarious!
“Sheepie, are you awake?” LOL.
Dexter is a two year old golden retriever. He is so gentle with people and children and loves to be let loose in the countryside around us like all dogs but is really good with recall. However if he sees a rabbit or pheasant he is deaf to recall and he has caught a pheasant or two and he does eat it. The main problem now is that he has run into neighbouring fields and chased sheep which he must’ve heard or smelt so now he goes nowhere except the beach off lead. Is there anything we can do to stop this.
Hi Don, we can help you learn more about how to help for sure. A few great blogs but also Susan’s new podcast may help you navigate how she approaches these types of challenges with our dogs. http://www.shapedbydog.com a great blog to also learn more about our approach would be: https://susangarrettdogagility.com/2019/05/do-land/ a bit of insight for you. Lynda (TeamSusan)
Ezra, 17 month old Great Pyrenees. Ezra is completely, utterly distracted by cars. He can see them through the fence. We could have the highest quality treat and it makes no difference. He runs back and forth until the car is gone completely plus 10 seconds. This distraction is rated over the top! We can’t even catch him to leash him and take him away from the distraction. Any attempt no matter how positive or enticing and he jumps up, paws at us, grabs with his mouth or just runs into us. He is 110 pounds. We really want to positively end this behavior! Ezra is really smart and sweet, but has crazy energy for a Pyr. Thanks.
My next door neighbor is obsessed with mowers, weed whacker a, power washer, leaf blower… And My dog, Ronan goes crazy and obsessed whenever he hears these now, and it’s extended to whenever he sees the neighbor. The neighbor shouts and swears at him. I have tried talking to the neighbor, but i’m on my own. He doesn’t want to help. I would call DII a 100 if neighbor is in his yard…he mows or weedwhacks daily unless it is raining. Need help here! I cannot get Ronan’s attention once he starts.
Deeks,Workimg Cocker Spaniel
Leaves blowing about
Value 10 (off the scale really 🙈lol)
Senses Engaged ..sight and sound ..wind = super sound
10 x 1000 x 2 x 1000 = 20000000. I think… using 10000 as it’s easier..she says laughing, I’ve tried all sorts to stop his super high leaf fetish… once he’s seen one,I’ve lost him.all he does is wavy for them
This sounds exactly like my Golden retriever (working type)! I realize this is an old blog post and an old comment, but if you happen to see this Lynn, how has the leaf fetish developed over time? I am super frustrated with my dog’s craziness over the leaves (and the sound of the wind, as that predicts leaves…)
Kona is 14 months old. He has learned to heel, loose leash walk, and his off leash recall is getting better. Unless he sees a squirrel. Then he is deaf, crazy, and fixated on getting the squirrel. The squirrel could be 100 ft away and no moving and Kona goes absolute bonkers. Pulls on the leash, barks, whines, bat-shit crazy.
Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch!!!
Stella; 9mth old, blind, border collie/heeler cross. Her distraction is anyone/any dog that is approaching her on the sidewalk or street (she becomes distracted even if they are ‘Covid diving’ away from us on the sidewalk!) She is a nervous dog (due to blindness) but is predominantly very level-headed – except when people/dogs approach. Her DII; about 8000
I’m brand new here…
I also have a dog with sight issues….
We think he’s about 2 yrs old…
He’s a rescue & has anxiety & is reactive with a lot of fears.
Nice to find someone in the same boat!
Hi! So excited to be training with you and your team, Susan!
I have a 4.5 month old Eng Cream Golden, Gracie who is easily spooked by many things: can be a tall bar stool, a cardboard box, sudden loud noises. The world is a scary place right now and I have already been working with her re: walking beside parked cars (those are GIGANTIC when you’re only 20” from the ground: I’ve gone down and looked up!!)
She’s doing better with the cars and you’re spot on with the distance factor: we started walking further away and over time got a little closer. Now we can walk beside them with no problem.
But it seems there’s always a new “spooky thing”, like she’s “looking for it” and I want to help her work through these automatic fears as quickly as I can and not have lingering trauma.
So her distractions are either sound or sight.
Her value is 9 or 10 and I’d give her 1,000 out of 1,000 because she becomes riveted and pays no attention to anything I can offer.
Right now, with the success of the car experiment, I’m thinking Distance is the key for her.
Watching her demeanor as we approach a potential “spook” is going to be critical and then I would need to move her just beyond wherever her limit of tolerance shows up, I’m thinking.
Do I just give her treats and attention once she is not exhibiting any stress? Maybe play games of chase (w/food or toys) nearby?
Any other actions would be great to know.
I just want her to be confident…and I feel like that all hinges on building her trust of me in small ways over time.
Gracie says, “Thanks so much, Susan!“ 🐾💕
For Marshall it is a squirrel
Distance 30′ 20 away 10 up for 30000
Senses sound sight for 2
My Doberman is always in “watch for it” mode even in RZ. She stares into the trees looking for squirrels or anything that moves. She will lunge and literally screech while thrashing around almost pulling me down. I carry the highest value reward which sometimes she’ll grab and go right back to crazy dog and sometimes I can’t even get her attention. I am usually not able to distract her since she sees birds and squirrels in trees long before I do in most cases. If we’re leash walking in a park and people with off leash dogs “jog” past us she goes into what appears to be attack mode but is just frustration because she’s unable to jog with them. She’s highly socialized with strangers and their dogs. Put her at a distraction level of at least 10,000 most of the time.
Susan, how can I comment if I don’t have a url??
Dog’s name is Brunswick:
Distraction is an excited dog walking towards us.
Value for Brunswick: a ’10’
Distance: distracted about 50 feet away – lets call that 50,000
(1000 per foot!)
Senses engaged: sight, smell and perhaps sound if the dog is barking/yelping at all.
So, let’s say ‘3’
Movement: my dog is moving, the other dog is moving, so it’s a double whammy. Let’s call it a ‘2’
DII is Value x Distance x Senses Engaged x Movement
10 X 50,000 X 3 X 2 = a DII for Brunswick of 3,000,000
A 3 Million distraction! Wow!
So, how can I lower this DII?
Have him sit at 60 feet away, so it’s harder to smell, a little less intense sound too perhaps. And having him ‘sit in RZ’ means he is not moving, so that factor is lessened. Having him perhaps do a few ‘hand targets’ to lessen the ‘sight’ factor as well. So, the DII distraction becomes:
10 X 60,000 X 2 X 1 = 1,200,000
Potentially less than half as intense! And the theroy is that now I can reward and get focus for me, and off the dog?? Cool exercise to go through what I can control and what I can do to lessen the intensity and get my dog in the ‘training zone’!
Am I thinking right?
Movement- You said to consider if the distraction is moving. For me it is also important if my dog is in motion, distraction is in motion, both are moving or neither is moving. So if my dog is running an agility course and he sees something on the floor, eg a spot of light, a tuft of fur that came off another dog, etc. he will stop and sniff it. So a score of zero for distraction movement but y dog is in motion.
This has bee difficult to overcome. Especially since a spot of light on the floor has zero value to my dog but he still checks it out. Again the lack of impulse control that he came to me with at a year old is still a persistent problem.
I am 11 and a Junior Handler through AKC and love doing Agility, i belong to AOTC club in Amarillo TX. I love all your videos and blog posts. My dog is a Field Bred English Cocker Spaniel named Tansy! She is a sweet loving dog, and gets very excited about me training her. But i have a question, Her attention is perfect even if my mom, dad, or siblings walk into the room. She is also perfect if any of my agility teachers walk in except one, Tansy stays perfectly but if that teacher talks, “Make sure you take off her leash” Tansy is instantly drawn to her! it is really annoying because she is my favorite teacher! I already feed her, walk her, and play with her everyday. So my Q: Do you have any suggestions on how to get her to pay more attention to me?
Ps. I love Tater Salad! He is sooo cute and the name adorable!!!
Hi Liz, Tansy sounds super! Susan’s podcast on permissions will help. Here’s where you can listen / watch: