Positive Reinforcement – Distraction Training

There are many techniques used in Positive Training which rely on treats; Distraction Training is one of them. The goal of Distraction Training is to use a positive object, such as a treat or a toy, to take the dog’s focus off of, or direct the dog away from, something (person, bike, dog, loud noise etc) that is causing them to react (lunge, bark, growl, bite, pee).

Relying on treats to distract a dog during difficult situations often backfires. Treats are not necessarily the reward the dog wants, and it is difficult to reward a dog if they are doing unwanted behaviour. By using the treat to take the focus off the subject, we are not teaching the expected behaviour by allowing the dog to watch the subject.

Example: A client showed me a video of a trainer walking a dog on a path by other leashed dogs. She continuously fed the dog treats (like a walking Pez dispenser) and repeatedly said, “Yesssss” when the dog turned his head to get the treat. I think she was trying to teach the dog to focus on her instead of the other dog, but ideally the goal is to teach the dog to watch other dogs without reacting. Even if the situation appears to be more controlled by having the dog sit before giving the treat, dogs often take the treat and then immediately go back to doing the unwanted behaviour. 

The distractions should be the dog/bike/person/etc not the treat. The treat, when used as a distraction, is a band-aid that prevents us from communicating expected behaviour and does not allow the dog to “think it through”. It is important to reward what the dog is thinking; not what the dog is doing based on being enticed by treats.