A week ago I posted a video of Lyra working on heeling with significant distractions on the field. I allow her to find the distractions and to discover for herself that working with me is endlessly more fun than self rewarding. She worked, wandered, sniffed, and worked some more.
Someone commented to me that it takes "patience" to train that way.
I've been thinking about that comment, because I don't consider myself a particularly patient person. However, I am willing to make short term sacrifices if I believe it will fill a long term interest. That is my perspective on distraction training with Lyra.
Today I videotaped Lyra working her articles - it's only about 20 seconds long. There are a few things you need to know to understand this video. First, this is only the second or third time that Lyra has worked articles outside of her training room. Second, this is the first time I've worked her articles with balls and toys in the pile. Finally, she came out of the house cold and did her articles after a few seconds of heeling (note the toys on the ground, which she is oblivious to). She never touched a toy.
Here's the lesson that I take from this video. Teach your dog to CHOOSE to ignore distractions rather than convincing them that you can MAKE them ignore distractions. You might have to be patient for a few months, but after that the job is pretty much done.
Dogs that self train to ignore distractions are not stressed; there is nothing to stress about. That allows them to perform work which requires thinking (articles, signals, directed jumping, Schutzhund out of motions) and not simply exercises that are performed by rote (AKC Novice and Open exercises and most of schutzhund). People who compete in AKC and Schutzhund at the higher levels know which exercises are most likely to be failed - the ones that require decision making, and stressed dogs don't tend to make very good decisions.
Dogs who are not stressed generalize better. I never taught Lyra that she had to ingore distractions when working articles; she simply understands the concept of work before play, so she puts her toy down and goes to work.
Dogs who are not stressed learn faster. Now that Lyra is six months old and beginning to show some true drive and maturity, I can teach her anything very quickly. She wants to work and loves to learn - my job is easy.
Dogs who are not stressed get off the toys and food more easily. If your training is stressful, then you must rely on toys and food to reduce that stress. If, on the other hand, you never created it in the first place, there's nothing to reduce. Now you can focus on the joy that you have created in the work and in your interpersonal interactions.
Stress in the ring is a huge issue; ask anyone who is a trainer of competition dogs. Some stress cannot be avoided; dogs shows can be very scary and overwhelming to many dogs, regardless of your training methods. As a trainer you can avoid becoming part of the dog's problem; that is where you may wish to focus your energies.