The Four D's of Dog Training

Many clients will start off by telling me that their dog already knows all the basic commands BUT...only at home, only if they have a treat, and certainly not if there's another dog anywhere nearby. There's almost always a 'but' and it's almost always connected to the four D's.

Don't know the four D's of dog training? You really should because they exist whether you are aware of them or not and if you are unaware of them they are probably working against you. The four D's are Duration, Distance, Distraction and Diversity. Below is a brief description of each and why they are so important. 

Duration - Duration is time. This may be in terms of how long or how fast a dog will do something - how long they will hold a sit without getting up is an example of duration. Another form of duration is in terms of the time between a command and compliance such as how quickly they respond to the word 'sit'. Speedy responses and sustained attentiveness are the hallmarks of a well-trained dog. 

Distance - Distance has to do with the amount of space between the dog and the handler. Adding 'stay' to the 'sit' command and walking farther and farther away from the dog (without Rover breaking his sit) is building distance. You can also build on commands by signaling from a distance. For example: putting the dog in a 'sit-stay', walking away and then giving a 'down' command from 50 yards away. The ability to maintain obedience at a distance is another key to having a well-trained dog. 

Distraction - Distractions, or what behaviorists call competing motivators, are all those things in life that will compete with you for your dog's attention. Fun things, scary things, smelly things...life is full of distractions. In the dog training world, it is best to teach anything new with no distractions and gradually add distractions to make any exercise more challenging. Bouncing a ball or riding a skateboard around a dog in 'sit-stay' is a form of adding a distraction. Behaviorists and trainers will often use the term "proofing" to describe distraction training. Distraction-proof obedience is a key ingredient to having a well-trained dog.   

Diversity - Diversity has to do with training the dog in a variety of settings and situations. This is what behaviorists and trainers call "generalizing" and is similar to proofing, the two terms are often used in conjunction. Practicing your 'sit-stay' exercises in as many locations as possible is a form of adding diversity to your dog's training. Training in the rain, wind or at night adds diversity. Adding motion exercises such as calling your dog to you and having him sit in the middle of running towards you is an exercise in diversity. A dog that understands and follows a command anywhere and/or anytime has diversity, which is an important component to having a well-trained dog. 

Let's Test with an Easy Command...

Start with a basic "Sit" command and let's really put it to the test using the four D's. Everybody's dog already knows sit, right? Most people think so but let's really find out. How quickly does your dog sit? A slow response tends to become no response when it really counts so try speeding it up. How long will your dog hold a sit until released? Will he sit at your side while you talk to people you meet in public or will he keep getting up? Will Fido sit at the dog park, beach or on an off-leash hike with squirrels and deer around? What about from 50 yards away from you? Perhaps Fido comes to you thinking 'sit' only means 'sit' right next to you, or maybe Fido acts as if 'sit' has no meaning at all from that far away. What about while in mid-stride running in an open field? This is just a sit command after all but it's not as easy as you think when you test it against the four D's is it? 

Whether you like it or not, know it or not or have prepared for it or not, the four D's exist and are waiting around every turn to sabotage your dog's training. If you want a dog that is truly trained, that is obedient anytime, anywhere, then your best bet is to use the four D's as a training tool so they work for you rather than against you. Start small but get creative and go out and challenge those behaviors you think your dog already knows very well. I only used sit as an example because it's the one we all know but try it with other essentials like down, come, heel and leave it. These are not just tricks after all, they are life skills that, once proofed against the four D's, will allow your dog to safely enjoy life both on and off-leash.

So, once we get the basics down, let's challenge our dogs just a little more with the 4 D's, shall we?

Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2014