Get Your Dog to Follow Commands Around Distractions

February 20, 2020

Photo by Laura Stanley from Pexels

Your dogs refuse to follow commands that they know.  What causes them to ignore you? Dominance? Stubborn behavior? Lack or respect?  Human error? Well, my friend you likely failed to generalize the dog’s behavior.

What does generalizing mean?  Ability to complete a task in every situation and environment.

Once humans learn a behavior, we maintain that skill.  Let’s use bike riding as an example. It is well known that once you learn to ride a bike you will never lose the skill.  It is also true that we can ride the bike successfully under different variables, such as riding: 


Up and down the block we live on, in a park and on the boardwalk.

On a sunny day, in the rain and when it is cold outside.

In the grass, the cement or on dirt.

Alone or in a crowd.

Photo by Gilberto Reyes from Pexels

Dogs are not human and they cannot generalize.  In order to link their training to different scenarios, we need to practice their skill in different situations. 

Restrict training to one location and the dog will only connect the cue to that familiar scenario.  This also rings true if you practice the same time each day. Practice the command on different surfaces, in different locations and with different variables (example: wearing a harness or while on leash, without luring or reaching for a treat first), if you want your dog to listen every time you issue a command. You must also slowly raise distraction levels.



Take as much time as your dog requires to achieve these skills.  Generalizing a behavior is not easy and certainly will not happen overnight.  To give you an idea how much work goes into generalizing a behavior, we’ve provided this fun fact: 

Guide dogs are required to practice each behavior 8,000 times before the command is approved.

Here are some suggestions for you to use when training your dog: 

Photo by Alexandru Rotariu from Pexels


Practice a new command/behavior at home, with little distraction, until your dog fully understands the command and responds in that space appropriately.


Generalize the behavior by practicing on/in:



              1. Other rooms in the house
              2. Different surfaces (rugs, tile, wood)
              3. Various times of day
              4. Different family members and friends commanding the dog
              5. During different weather conditions
              6. While wearing a harness (without a harness too), while wearing a leash, holding the leash and while it drags on the floor
              7. With the radio, TV or computer playing in the background
              8. Deck or patio in your backyard
              9.  Driveway and sidewalk in your front yard
              10.  Grass
              11. Walk
              12. Waiting for the school bus 
              13. While your neighbor cuts the lawn
              14. Other dogs, people, squirrels and rabbits 
              15. Children playing
              16.  Inside a store
              17.  Different distances from your dog and in different positions (sitting, standing, kneeling)
              18. Outside stores
              19. Groups of people 
              20. Heavy traffic areas

Photo by Laura Stanley from Pexels

The more time you invest in working with your dog, the easier it will be for your dog to respond regardless of the conditions presented.  Use high-quality treats, bring a positive attitude and if your dog struggles, return to the last location your dog succeeded and practice the skill a few more times before moving forward.  

Did these tips help your dog generalize a behavior?  We want to hear about it.


Written by Katie McKnight


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