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Training in the Real World

Mar 2, 2024

Is your dog too distracted to train?

Urban Freestyle, as a program, can enrich your life with your dog in numerous ways. Many of our members enjoy teaching new things to their dogs, and this first step can of course be done at home. However, our goal is for most teams to play and train out and about too.

The more fun training activities you engage in with your dog outside, the more they will care about you in various environments and be more responsive when needed. Additionally, you can enjoy walks, exploration time, and incorporate training seamlessly, not to mention showcasing your achievements. We all love it when a stranger compliments our dog!

Nevertheless, most people encounter challenges in achieving the same level of focus from their dogs outside as opposed to at home. They may be distracted by other dogs, or too busy sniffing and this leaves you feeling ignored and frustrated.


What can we do to get our dogs in the right mindset to concentrate?

The advice to move further away from distractions and to use higher value rewards is very common and is generally a sensible recommendation. However, we can do more to ensure our dogs are in the right mindset to train in the first place.

We teach our members to move through a 3-phase process to get their dogs ready to train in the big wide world, whether that’s polishing & proofing known elements, teaching new tricks or putting together a full Urban Freestyle routine!


The phases are as follows:

Phase 1: Acclimatisation

When you’re training your dog in a new or tricky spot, it’s important to let them take their time to get comfortable. How you do this and for how long will really depend on your dog and where you are. Give your dog the chance to sniff around, soak in the smells, sounds, and sights. They’re often gathering information for safety, or they may just be enjoying the sniffing party.

Letting your dog to explore is a great way to do this. But be sure to mix in some chill time with the ‘relaxed settle’ move so she can take in the environment without actively engaging with it. On the other hand, some dogs are all about the work, so you have may to actively encourage them to take a look around.

Our acclimatisation phase usually has two parts:

Moving Phase, this is when your dog is wander around, checking things out & a Stationary Phase, where your pup chills out and takes in information without getting too close.

Here are some things to think about during the acclimatisation phase:

  • Is this place familiar for your dog? What experience have they had here?
  • How excited up is your dog right now?
  • How wild is the environment? Is it really busy, and are there tempting things like balls or prey around

Phase 2: Offered Engagement

Ideally, once they have acclimatised to the environment, you want your dog to “ask” you to start training. We call this “Offered Engagement” – where the dog comes and gives us calm eye contact without being prompted or lured into the work.

This allows us to gauge whether the dog is truly ready to train rather than the high value reward masking any worries about the place, or leaving the dog feeling conflicted.

photo credit atmosphericimagery

There are a few simple games you can play to teach your dog to offer engagement, and we have full lessons on this within the membership for anyone who would like to learn more!
Once the dog is no longer distracted by what else is going on, and they are offering calm eye contact, we can move onto the third phase…


Phase 3: Warm-Up Routine

Establishing Warm Up Protocols is crucial before diving into any training session!
Skipping this step may result in dogs requiring more prompting, appearing ‘distracted’, responding slowly, showing disinterest, or displaying displacement behaviours, and at times, maybe barking at you.

The functions of Ready-to-Train Protocols are to

  • Provide context for upcoming activities, outlining expectations.
  • Optimize the arousal level for effective training.
  • Collect information about the dog’s responsiveness, and gauging the dog’s ability to maintain focus.

Warm-up routines will look different in different sports. It should be a short chain of behaviours which we ask for before we get into the training session itself.

If the dog is able to perform these perfectly, you know they are in the right “head space” so your training session is likely to be much more effective.

The perfect warm up routine will warm up your dog physically, but also mentally. They should be able to listen & respond well to known cues and not throw behaviour at you randomly!

If your dog is not able to complete their Warm Up routine, you know something need to change. This could be creating more distance away from any distraction, giving the dog a break and starting again, or going back to the Acclimatisation and/or Offered Engagement phase.


Hope this helps & happy training!