How to Train Your Dog to Ignore Distractions?

We’ve all been there as dog owners. You’re at the park with your dog, playing catch or just getting some air. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a squirrel. You call his name, but selective hearing kicks in.

Before you know it, he and the squirrel are halfway across the park. He’s practically out of sight, and you’re just hoping he doesn’t run in front of a car.

What makes some dogs not come when they hear their master’s call? Today we’ll answer the question, as well as go over advice/tips you can try to command your dog’s attention.

Why won’t he listen?

When your dog sees or hears an unfamiliar sight or sound, the distraction is a source of stimulation for them. When they notice another dog or person, they’re choosing between a new stimulant and your command.

They decide in their head what’s offering them more, and in many cases, it’s the distraction. If you want your dog to listen to you, something to keep in mind is the stimulation you provide. Keep treats on you when out with your dog off-leash.

Always reward them when they return to your call. We want to make sure your command means more to them than a rabbit or the mailman across the street.

Effective leadership

Many seemingly small instances/moments in your dog’s life shape the way they view you as a leader.

Does your dog climb on the furniture without your permission? Do they have access to food and toys throughout their day without having to go through you? Do they set the schedule of when to play or go outside?

When your dog is given too much freedom and opportunity in the house, they begin to self-reward. As they continue to do so, you gradually become less of a means of experience and stimulation in their life.

They will be less likely to turn to you for rewards for certain types of behavior. By making your dog come to you for those daily rewards, you become the focal point of his interests.

You’re teaching him you are in charge of what he enjoys; you are in charge of him. Once he sees you as his source of fun, you’ll probably hold much more of his attention when it matters.

Trick training

Tricks like, “roll over” or “play dead” probably aren’t what you think of when training your dog to avoid distractions. Trick training, however, allows you to reward your dog for listening to you.

Your dog will learn the value of giving you its focus and attention, as well as appreciate your approval.

Dogs love learning tricks and love praise for their efforts. Building a working relationship based on positive reinforcement and praise for accomplishments goes a long way.

The “leave it” training plan

Training your dog or puppy in a controlled environment is an excellent first step. If you know your dog distracts easily, start with a safe area.

The “leave it” plan is actually quite simple. Once you’ve found your safe area, start by placing a distraction on the floor on one side of the room. It can be a favorite toy of your dog, a favorite treat, or even a favorite smelly boot of theirs. As long as you know it will catch your dog’s eye, it should work fine.

After you place it on the floor, stand with your dog on-leash on the other side of the room. The further away you start, the more likely your success. You’ll also want to make sure you have a number of treats on your person, something your dog loves.

Take a treat and hold it in your hand. Begin to walk with your dog toward the distraction on the other side of the room. The second your dog takes notice of the distraction, say, “leave it”. When your dog hears you and makes eye contact with you, reward and praise them immediately.

By praising his turn from the distraction toward you, you’re teaching him your attention is what’s most important. The call doesn’t have to literally be “leave it,” of course, it can be whatever you’d feel is best.

Just remember, once you’ve chosen a command, you should stick with it. The sooner he learns the command the better. Remember not to tug on the leash when you call. The point is to get your dog’s cooperation without any other incentive.

Changing it up

Once your dog learns to “leave it” in a controlled environment, it may be time to raise the difficulty. Every dog is different, as is every distraction.

Your dog may find new situations more challenging, so try a variety of them. If the distance of your distraction is a certain length, shorten it to see if he still listens.

Try keeping your dog distracted for longer periods of time, he may not be as willing to look away. Also, try switching up the distraction. If your first distraction was a chew toy, use a piece of bacon instead. The more difficult your changes, the stronger your command will be when you manage to keep his attention.

After you’ve successfully made all these minor alterations, it may be time for a change of setting. Try the “leave it” strategy at the park, one of the places where it really counts.

Use real-world distractions (safe ones, of course). Let your dog notice other dogs at the park from a reasonable distance.

If your dog cannot “leave it” and disregards your call, you may have to go back to the drawing board. If he listens, congratulations on successfully training your pooch!


Changing the distractions, durations and distances are all important. The most important quality to have when training a stubborn pup, however, is diligence. When you control your dog’s toys and privileges, do so every day.

Make “leave it” training a regular exercise. At least at first, until your dog shows signs of improvement. Repetition is vital in making sure your dog understands what he’s being trained.

They will likely make mistakes, and it will be a learning process for you as well as them. Like with everything in life, practice makes perfect.

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