In my opinion, there are three basic stages in teaching a dog anything. Whether you are teaching sit, down, watch me, stay or recall for that matter, you must learn, understand, and deal with the 3 D’s of dog training. They are Duration, Distance and Distraction, and no matter what you are teaching Fido, all three will figure in to how well your dog understands the task at hand and will determine your success or failure. Each “D” is important, and it is critical that you introduce each at the right time and order; please do not attempt to skip ahead for convenience (human translation: the owner’s frustration and lack of patience!)

The first and most basic stage is Duration, or how long a dog can hold a command or cue. Think of it this way, Duration is the “bricks and mortar” of all successful dog training. We all remember the story of the three little pigs and know that using the right foundation is critical to the durability of any given house (behavior); and training is no different. If you bypass the concept of Duration so that you can attempt to add Distance or Distraction to make your life easier, failure is almost certain – the house is blown down!

When I teach a puppy or beginner class, I start with the basic commands; watch me, sit, down and stay. Duration is very important to successful mastery of each of these commands. For solid Duration stays, I want my student standing right in front of the dog (no more than 2 feet away) and working on a duration stay only. This is, in essence, what duration is all about; being able to control the dog at a close distance. Not until the dog is able to reliably hold the cued position (30 to 45 seconds) do we move on to the second of the three D’s, Distance! And I don’t even attempt it in a Puppy or Beginner class; I wait and start my Intermediate classes with Distance.

Distance is exactly what it sounds like… being able to take our already reliable duration and add space between you and the dog! This sounds simple, but in my experience, people have a tendency to get in a hurry (too much, too fast) and then seem to always be playing catch up, with 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. Keep in mind that sometimes when a dog fails, you have to go back farther than where you were before the failure, actually netting zero or even negative progress, which fuels frustration! Distance in dog training requires two things…simplicity and patience! These traits (or lack thereof!) led me to name my training business Keep it Simple Stupid dog training; and if you read on, you will see why!

When teaching how to add Duration or Distance to a stay command, I always start with “The rule of 2.” This rule simply illustrates that it is easier to learn in small, steady increments, rather than jumping ahead in large or intermittent steps without yet being proficient at the beginning levels. This idea will work in all areas of dog training, but let’s focus on Distance. First, get a baseline. Let’s say the dog is rock solid with a 30 second duration stay at 2 feet. Why would I tempt the gods by jumping to a 5 or 6 foot distance next? Remember the comment on simplicity and patience? Here’s your next assignment! I want you to go from 2 feet to 4 feet and practice at that distance for at least 3 days! When your dog is rock solid at 4 feet, for at least 30 seconds, move to 6 feet and so on. The idea of training (dogs, monkeys, killer whales or even 4 year olds!) is to build on successes, not failures; for every success, you gain another 2 feet. While those who attempt too much too fast are going to fail and inevitably blame the dog for being “dense” as the reason for the failure (in this case we need to really ask, who is to blame for the failure?) This is where “Keep it Simple Stupid” comes in hard and heavy. Trust me, the “Rule of 2” works. Teach in increments of 2 and continue to practice till you succeed, then add two again. This concept also works very well with Duration, simply by adding 2 seconds each time you go to a new level.

The next post will focus on the biggest reason for problem behaviors…DISTRACTION!

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