Dancing Hearts Blog

How to Easily Fix This Common (and Frustrating) Dog Training Challenge

How to Easily Fix 800px

Last year I surveyed dog lovers from all around the country…engaged in a cross section of ALL dog activities/dog sports/working dogs. Can you guess what was in the Top 3 Common Struggles?

“My Dog Gets Distracted, Looses Focus, Won’t Listen.”

I totally get it.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about how distracted my young dogs were at a North Dakota sheepdog trial where we were all inexperienced at handling yearling ewes fresh off the range, in 2 feet of tall noisy grass that kept the dogs from seeing me and the sheep, with a 25 mph wind blowing in our faces.

We were not prepared. My dogs could not listen. We were all distracted, to say the least.

I know now that if I had stayed focused when my dogs began to struggle with this unknown environment instead of freaking out because they weren’t listening to me, it would have been a better experience for all of us. Lesson learned.

Lots of dogs visit here at my farm for life skills training, behavior transformation, herding training and more. There is LOTS of distraction.

Oh, the smells and sights on a farm…the sheep poop…the horse poop…the chicken poop…it’s heavenly for the dogs and hellish for their person. (yes, there is lots of poop on a farm, and you know how much dogs love poop)

With all this personal experience with distraction from both sides of the counter, I have cracked the code on the Root Cause of  Distractions.

And, I have figured out how you can keep your dog focused in all circumstances.

Are you ready? Here’s my secret tip:

The main reason dogs get distracted is because their person is distracted.


It’s as Simple As: You stay focused, your dog stays focused.
Ha! I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.  😉  And, I assure you it is a fact.

Here’s what happens:
• When dogs aren’t getting a steady flow of information (from us) any time they are not familiar or experienced with a situation, they get distracted.
• When dogs are unsure about what to do (and they have no leadership – maybe because we are learning too), they get distracted.
• When dogs are unsure about what to do, and we freak out because they aren’t listening when we need them to the most, they get even more distracted.
• When dogs do not understand what we are trying to teach them and we don’t quickly make it more clear, they get distracted.
• When dogs don’t have the kick-ass awesome partner in competition that they have in practice or training (that’s you), they get distracted.
• When we are learning something new with our dog, they get distracted.
• When we are not having fun in the work or training, our dog gets distracted.


Why is this?, I hear you asking.

Because when we are learning, thinking, assessing, nervous, obsessing, freaking out…we are disconnected from our dog. We are ‘inside our head’, our dog is basically ‘out there’ alone.

Our dogs SEEM to be misbehaving. They are just lost and lonely.  😉

What can I do?, you ask.  Here ya go:

Your Action Steps:

1. Read the “5 Steps” guidebook, and this time notice how Mary handles distractions and lack of focus. Focus on the focus.
2. Anytime you hear yourself say out loud or in your head: “my dog is distracted by….” assess your own mental focus and connection to your dog.
3. Learn from your distractions. When you find you are disconnected from your dog, and discover why…brainstorm how you can reconnect. Sometimes, you need to do nothing but cut your dog some slack. Just feel better knowing your dog is distracted because you are immersed in something else, not because they are blowing you off.
4. Teach yourself NOT to get distracted by your dogs distraction. This is a hard one. When our dog starts to ‘do something else’ whatever it is, suddenly our focus returns to our dog and we see them being distracted.

Our nature is to look at and engage with what the dog is distracted by. I have NEVER had a person tell me that their dog is distracted without including a ‘by’ statement at the end. Think about it. (hint: if you have EVER told your dog to ‘leave it’, you were distracted)

Practice staying focused on the task at hand, whatever it is. Encourage your dog to engage with you, as you stay engaged with your dog.

In no time at all, with your commitment to focus, you will have the most attentive and engaged doggie partner ever. Fun!

Let me know how it goes. I love to hear success stories!   😉



6 Responses

  1. I have a great relationship with my i year old German Shepherds and have since they were pups……they did everything I wanted with just a glance…..I would tell people (because they noticed the calm focused on me behavior they had) that im just lucky that I have two of the best dogs ever…….and it has stayed this way…..they act like the can read my mind. People are amazed that I whistle and no matter what they are doing they come like a flash, they dont bark and they calmly walk beside me everywhere we go. Then comes my daughters Border Collie pup……..he is a totally different dog and has endless over the top energy. Now mind you we live on 80 acres so there is no lack of exercise. But I feel like he is kind of lost and doesnt have that same connection my Shepherfs do. He is my daighters dog and she is knew to this connecting and training dogs thing and I dont have the time as I have a farm to run and my own dogs. He is beyond brilliant and learned all his obedience commands within minutes. But he doesnt always come when hes called and if with another dog will not listen…….hopefully I can get her involved in this so she understands her part and where the break down is. He is in regular puppy classes and in that environment he out shines every dog in the class. Its just when he is not in a controlled environment where the communication breaks down. Hopefully through your insite she can start building on their relationship. She isnt as calm and clear about her wants with her pup as I am. Hopefully she will get it. He is a much more high strung, energetic and ADD type than my German Shepherds were and are. Hopefully she will get it figured out : ) thanks for your great tips. Gina & Gabby…….and Jasper : )

  2. this article is very good in the sense that it explains what happens when dog become distracted or disengaged. I knew that having a connection with dog is important for getting around in the competition ring, but understanding it is another issue… this is the start of understanding.

  3. I take a brush with me on walks, and when Cassie my Border Collie is more distracted than usual, I take time out, take off her collar and groom her. It’s partly the full attention I give her and partly the sensual feel she has of being very silky. She floats her tail and does ballet steps on her tiptoes. You’d think she’d be more distracted, but it is also a bonding exercise and she’s highly tuned to me then.

  4. She is very well behaved as I have this conversation with her so that she usually does what I want without actually telling her. She sees me get the camera out and when I say “Smile”. she looks at me and looks natural. The first time, she gave a Hollywood starlet grimace, but soon got the idea. My husband had taken a camera to the park and had used up a whole roll of film without capturing her face.

    We don’t do commands most of the time. I just tell her what we are going to do, and how I’d like it to turn out,and she uses her skills to make it happen, often adding her own touches. It doesn’t always work though and I don’t really mind, but some predictability would sometimes be nice.

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