Using Distractions To Train Your Dog

A purpose bred dog is – in my world – is one that was bred for one main, specific purpose. The dog is often distracted by this “purpose” especially when being trained for something else.

Examples of these breeds are Scent Hounds, Sled Dogs, Livestock Guardian Dogs, and Sight Hounds. All of these breeds are considered to be “difficult to train” and none of them have a representative on the list of so-called “intelligent” dog breeds better than the Samoyed at # 33.

These breeds are perceived by many to be stubborn because they are not easily man-handled to respond to “commands”.

Both of my breeds are on the list at #42, which was always surprising to me.

Rewarding With Something Different

When training your purpose bred dog, one of the things that can work as a reward is to let the dog participate in an activity that he really wants to do, that would be a distraction to him normally.

Your dog always determines what is motivating to him.  Food is a great initial motivator to get started in training a behaviour, but there are certain times that you may want to use an alternate reward when training.


When working with a scent hound, you are continually working against nature to get your dog to pay attention to what you are doing and where you are going.

Having your dog NOT pull is the most important thing you can teach a dog when on leash so that you can have an enjoyable outing. If you dog’s nose is always on the ground, then this can make having a nice walk challenging.

As an example, when training your beagle to walk on a loose leash, you can incorporate allowing your dog to sniff for a certain period of time as a reward for walking nicely. This can work for other dogs as well, but can be particularly useful with dogs who always have their noses on the ground.

Making It Work

The key to making this work is to already have the behaviour established somewhat in an area of NO and then LOW distractions.

This means that you need to do a lot of work BEFORE you start taking your dog out for long walks. The reason is this: if you walk with your dog pulling or excessively sniffing, you risk training your dog to pull and sniff, AND you make it harder for yourself in training. You produce a habit of a behaviour that you don’t want.

Another example is a dog barking at the window (watchdogging). When I am not home, my dogs don’t have the opportunity to stand at the window and bark at things and people. This is a given. You don’t want this. But when I am home, I want my dogs to notify me if there is something going on outside.

So I allow some mild barking.

Then I call the dogs away from the window. Then they can go back to the window and bark some more if they want as a reward for coming to me. This practice has a side effect though. Eventually, the dog becomes uninterested in the activity outside and more focused on you.

When working with your dog using an alternate reward like this it is important to have the behaviour “ON CUE” This means that your dog understands the difference between “pulling” and “loose leash walking” , whatever you are training, when you use certain words.

I use the cues “go” for pulling and “walk nice” for my dog to walk beside me.

Having your dog understand these cues makes it easier for him to know when it is time to have fun. After the dog is able to sniff a spot on the ground during a walk, (i.e. do an innate behaviour), then walking nicely usually gets easier.

There are many ways you could use this idea to train your dog. Pulling for Sled dogs, chasing for sighthounds, or whatever your dog enjoys really. In order to for this work, you need to know what you want to accomplish in training with your dog, and set up scenarios to do the training. It is a more time consuming way to train but is appropriate for certain dogs.

If a dog is always prevented from doing something she wants, it may create an unnatural focus on the thing. I have experienced this with many client’s dogs who were reactive to something. A dog who does not get enough exposure to something, tends to seek it out or be on the look for it.

On the other hand, if a dog is given free access to something – like lots of petting or playing with other dogs every time he sees one, that dog often becomes expectant of that behaviour every time he sees another dog or person.

This method of rewarding obviously won’t work for every dog. But it may be useful when training some. It is just another way to work with your purpose bred that will help provide some enrichment to his life and get him trained at the same time.