A small change in environment can result in a big change in your dog's behavior. Changing rooms in your house, dinnertime smells, your kids being home from school, front yard, back yard, right before lunch time, on and on. You can expect dogs to behave differently based on all the variables around them. When you go outside, you're seeing a big change in environment so your expectations for behavior should adjust accordingly.
Max on an outdoor dog bed to help give him direction in a world of distractions
Your treats become really valuable when you go outside because they are your tool for your dog to behave when they want to do anything else but listen to you. They want to catch a leaf, look at people walking by, chase people walking by, bark at other dogs, and seriously act like a dog!
I have heard so many dog owners say things like "my dog doesn't even like treats outside" or "I don't take treats outside". That's the opposite of how you should be using treats. Treats are your dog's motivation to do a behavior and if he doesn't want that treat, he will not motivated to do the behavior you want. That's not good! If you aren't using treats when your dog doesn't want to do the behavior, when are you using treats?! If you aren't rewarding your dog for doing something for you when they want to do something else, when are you using rewarding them with treats?!
You have already learned a few tips - practice outside (and everywhere) and use your treats wisely. Here are some more tips for getting your dog to listen to you outside:
1. String together commands inside
When you string together commands, you are building your dog's mental stamina. This helps them stay focused on you and following your commands. It also makes your treats go further. Your dog is working harder for one treat than he would be if he got a treat for every command.
Goal: String together 5-7 commands inside and string together 2-3 commands outside
Tip: You do not need to do different commands, you can repeat commands. For example, your commands could be "sit... paw.... look .... touch ... paw ... touch". That counts! You kept your dog motivated to perform six commands for one treat.
Stay is control. Control is necessary to fight distractions. You can practice stay on a dog bed to give them a place to go.
2. Practice stay
Stay is the ultimate control command. Your dog needs control for commands like off, leave it, and leash walking. They need to literally be able to control their impulses. If you want your dog to be able to listen to you outside, your dog should be able to do about 30 seconds of stay.
Goal: Have your dog perform stay while you open the door
Tip: Find the level of difficulty that your dog can perform stay successfully - that might just touching the door knob at first. Keep increasing the level of difficulty after you have found success.
3. Find success with each command outside
The last thing I want is your dog ignoring your commands. If you say come 10 times and then your dog comes, your dog ignored you 9 times. Let's teach your dog to come on the first time. You can do that by finding success for each command - even if that is calling your dog to come from just five feet away at first.
Outside introduces a lot of space and distractions. As dog owners, we naturally distance ourselves from our dog because there is so much space! Distance for dogs is everything. Performing commands from a distance takes time and practice. Start with a long leash so you have control over your dog and can gauge how far away you are from your dog.
Here is a cheat sheet for making commands easier if your dog isn't listening:
Sit, Down, Look, Drop It - use more luring
Name, Touch, Come, Leave It, Drop It - get closer
Stay - ask for stay for shorter amount of time, get farther away from distraction
With Me - shorter amount of time walking next to you
Asking for short distances walking "with me" earns Millie and Mika high value treats and keeps them coming back for more
Goal: Find success with every command, no matter how easy it is at first.
Tip: Start with the easiest command - your dog's name. This is a great way to establish a presence with your dog, create some quick wins and redirect his attention on you.
4. Get an outdoor dog bed
A dog bed is your dog's place in this world. You give them a place to go and it minimizes confusion and anxiety. It is their place to rest, recharge, and think about what they've done. If they are doing an unwanted behavior, redirect them to the bed for them to regroup and focus on you.
Ben on an outdoor dog bed
Your dog does not need to sit on the dog bed the whole time they are outside. You can use your dog's bed to redirect their attention away from a distraction, and then release them again. When you release them, see what they do. Do they go right back to the distraction? Bring them back to the bed. Do they go sniff and explore? Let them!
Goal: Practice place / bed outside increasing the distance between your dog and the dog bed.
Tip: Use yummy dog treats outside. You want to save those high value treats for outside so they are extra motivating for your dog.
Outside is challenging. Challenging environments are extra rewarding for dog owners. Practice, build off success and build up your training inside so you can save those treats for outside.
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