In the dog training world we talk about this funny thing called thresholds. The saying goes, “Keep your dog under threshold”. Well for those of you who aren’t professional dog trainers, what is a threshold and how to you keep your dog under it?!!!
Ok the threshold, in relation to training your dog, is the place where your dog can learn. The mental state that he is in when he can think. How do you know your dog is able to think and learn? He’s probably paying attention to you, offering behaviors (if he’s trained using positive reinforcement), or he’s responding to cues. If he is over threshold he’s not paying attention to you, he could be barking, lunging or growling, and he’s ignoring any treats shoved in his face or jerks on his leash.
Why is it so important to keep your dog under threshold? Well, so he can learn. If he’s too distracted by something that worries him or even something that excites him, he’s not learning anything other than how to be excited. By keeping him under threshold you’re allowing him to think and respond to you appropriately.
What can you do to keep your dog under threshold? Think about the “3 D’s” duration, distance, and distractions.
Duration refers to how long you expect your dog to do something for. You wouldn’t be expected to do burpees for 7 minutes straight on your first day of exercising, you train up to that. Don’t expect your dog to hold a sit for 10 minutes the first time you ask for it, train for it.
Distance refers to two different aspects of training your dog. 1 – How far from you will your dog respond to a cue? 2 – if the behavior is a moving behavior, such as back up or crawl, how far will your dog travel in that position/direction? You wouldn’t be expected to run for 13 miles on your first day of training you again would train for a ½ marathon, would you not? Train your dog to perform over a distance.
Distractions refer to what’s going on around you. You can change the level of distraction by increasing or decreasing distance from distractions, changing the intensity of the distraction (sitting person vs. jogging person), or by changing your location (inside vs. the dog park).
So, this is all well and good but what if your dog knows how to sit inside but can not sit at the dog park? How do you get a dog that will respond in any situation? The answer, slowly work up to it. Your dog can sit inside. Then next step would be to train him to do so just outside your house with little foot traffic nearby. Move farther away from your home. Will he sit in the car? Allow your dog to graduate to the next level of distraction before you force him into a situation he will ultimately fail in.
Remember, keep your dog under threshold and slowly increase the duration, distance and distractions you ask your dog to perform under. This will give you rock solid performances that you can be proud of.