Distractions and Distractions

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Yesterday, I put Lacey and Glimmer in their respective harnesses, tethered them together, and took them to a local business owner who has given me long-standing permission to use his store for distraction training exercises. It was Lacey’s second time in the store.  Her first time was to introduce her to the owner and his staff.

Glimmer knows the store rules very well, so she was a great help teaching Lacey how to ignore distractions – and there were a lot of distractions to contend with. People going in and out, vehicles coming and going outside, all kinds of sights, smells, and sounds that were completely unfamiliar….  Several people wanted to pet the dogs, but Glimmer ignored them, and in so doing, she taught Lacey how to do the same.

Lacey did remarkably well during every exercise.  The only exercise she had some trouble with was that of holding a sit/stay position when people came in, saw the dogs, and wanted to greet them. Lacey loves meeting new people, and ignoring them is challenging for her.  But, she’s still a baby; she’ll get better as she continues to practice and learn.

Inside the store, we practiced sit/stay, down/stay, heel, recall (on- and off-leash), and “ignore” (distraction).  Then, we went outside and repeated each of the exercises amid the sights and sounds of people and vehicles coming near us.  Because the outside distractions were quite nerve-wracking for both dogs, they were rewarded with a super-high-value treat: small pieces of cheddar cheese.

There were three instances in which both dogs had to completely ignore humans.  The first instance involved a lady going into the store.  We were outside, and she came near us and commented about how “cute” the dogs were. She started to bend down to pet Lacey, asking if it was okay to do so, and I told her that Lacey is in training as a Medical Support dog. The woman immediately withdrew her hand, stood upright, and said she wouldn’t pet her, then.  I told her Lacey is not vested yet – that she is in training – but the woman recognized the importance of the work being done and declined to pet her. Out of respect, she also did not attempt to pet Glimmer.

The second instance involved a man who came very close to us while we were working on the down/stay exercise outside.  He was smiling at me and encouraging me to give the dogs a cookie – that they love their cookies – and I explained that they were working and had to earn their rewards.  To my great joy, even though the leash was on the ground for the exercise, both Lacey and Glimmer held the down/stay position. Not only that, but both dogs focused solely on me, and not the gentleman standing beside me.  When he walked away, both dogs remained calm and maintained their focus on me, waiting for the next instruction.

The third instance involved the arrival of a female police officer.  Our position was closer to the door, which meant the officer had to pass fairly close to us.  Uniforms present issues to some dogs, so I paid extra attention to both dogs to gauge their reactions to the officer.  Both Lacey and Glimmer maintained a down/stay position.  As the officer came abreast of us, she glanced quickly at them and then she smiled at me… and she kept on walking into the store.  She did not stop to talk with me, she did not ask to pet the dogs.  She recognized that they were working, and she showed respect for that by not attempting to interfere with the exercise.

Considering the tremendous amount of distractions she had to deal with, Lacey did a phenomenal job.  If the weather allows it, I’m going to take the dogs back to the store today so that we can continue our distraction training.  Have a great day!

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