It’s not uncommon for dogs to be distracted by cones during rally or other training exercises such as the obedience figure 8. There could be a few reasons why dogs may be distracted by the cones rather than staying in the correct heel position.
Why Might Your Dog be Distracted by Cones?
1. Novelty and Distraction: Cones may be visually interesting or novel to the dog. This can cause the dog to become distracted by the cones instead of focusing on the handler and maintaining heel position.
2. Reinforcement History: If a dog has received rewards near cones in the past, such as playing games like fly or sends, they may associate cones with fun and rewards. This can create a stronger attraction to the cones compared to staying in heel position. Putting more reward history in heel position will help with this problem.
3. Pressure: Sometimes dogs are sensitive to different pressures they may encounter during training. The handler is a huge source of pressure, especially for little dogs. The cones may be putting less pressure on the dog than the handler, causing the dog to move away from the handler and toward the cone.
To address this issue of the dog being distracted by cones, here are a few strategies you can try. If you want to learn how to implement these strategies or get some other ideas, please consider joining my online Rally class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! This class starts on June 1st and will help you get better scores in the rally ring!
1. Increase Reinforcement for Correct Heel Position: Ensure that the dog receives frequent and valuable rewards for maintaining the correct heel position. Use high-value treats, praise, and play to motivate and reinforce the desired behavior. Make staying in heel position more rewarding than interacting with the cones.
You can start this process by showing the dog that it’s easier to stay in heel position rather than suck toward the cones. Start with heeling big circles around the cones so it’s easy for your dog to stay in heel position. Reward the dog frequently for correct heel position. As your dog does well, slowly decrease the size of your circle so the dog is closer to the cone.
2. Desensitization: If cones are a novel object for your dog, gradually introduce cones in training sessions and expose the dog to them in controlled environments. Initially, start with fewer cones and increase their presence gradually as the dog becomes more comfortable. Pair the presence of cones with rewards for correct heel position to build a positive association.
3. Proofing and Generalization: Practice the exercises in various environments with increasing distractions, including cones. Work on gradually increasing the difficulty level while maintaining the dog’s focus on you. Gradually fade out the need for cones as a distraction so the dog learns to stay focused on you.
Marina was struggling with pulling towards the cones while heeling. Her mom Susan started off heeling nice big circles around the cone and putting lots of value into heel position.
You can see in this video, Susan is really trying to ensure that Marina is staying with her around that cone. After only a few training sessions, she is doing great!
If your dog ever does try to pull back toward the cone, try doing a side step away and rewarding the dog for coming into you. It won’t take many repetitions for the dog to realize that sucking toward the cone is not worth it because staying in heel is what is rewarded.
With a little bit of time and practice, your dog will understand that staying in heel position is more desirable than interacting with being distracted by the cones. Staying consistent and patient will result in a dog that values heel position. Your dog will be able to maintain focus on you during heeling exercises, even around cones.