The other day, I hit the park with one of my dogs for a little training and exercise. I walked out to the large grassy area and began working through some of the obedience commands we had been practicing. Just then, my phone rang. Work was calling and I felt compelled to answer.
I let the leash go slack, and diverted my attention from my highly engaged pup, to the phone that rang loudly, as it threatened to send the caller to voicemail. For a few moments, as I shifted my attention to work, my pup stared at me, maintaining focus and waiting for the game to continue. After a while however, he disengaged and began to find other things to keep his puppy mind occupied.
As I talked on the phone, a man pulled into the parking lot and climbed out of his car. He popped his trunk and from it he pulled a large and colorful kite that he began constructing no more than 20 yards from me. With me disengaged, my pup stared intensely at the spellbinding fabric as it flapped in the breeze.
Once construction was complete, it was time for takeoff. With my back to him, the man launched the kite, running through the park to help it catch wind, sending it soaring into the sky directly above us.
In seeing the magical flying toy ascending, and in hearing the material flap loudly as the wind that carried it, my pup couldn’t control his excitement. He lunged towards it, pulling on the leash, and nearly taking me to the ground. I held on tight and continued with my call.
When I hung up, I walked my pup back out to the grassy space, kite flying high above us, and I attempted to re-engage him in the training that had been cut short by my ringing phone. His focus was still on the kite.
I used my motivators, each of which he gladly accepted, but his focus wasn’t where it usually was and he remained wildly distracted by the kite, and then by the dogs that were entering the park adjacent to us.
When I checked out of training, so did he.
This was a training issue that I had no choice but to own. I’m pretty good at leaving my phone at home and fully engaging in training sessions, but this time I violated my own rules and my training suffered for it.
After a few small successes, I loaded him up in the car and went home, promising him and myself that I’d return later when we could both remain focused on engaging with one another.
With so many things constantly competing for our attention day in and day out, and with the advent of cell phones, iPads and other electronic devices that tether us to work and other commitments, being distracted has become a way of life.
How can I possibly ask my dog to be engaged, focused, and attentive for extended periods of time, when I can’t be engaged, focused or attentive for longer than 5 minutes? Here, I allowed work, texts, and that damn cell phone to steal my attention from my pup and as a result, he simply found something better to do.
When I commit time to training my dog, I must be fully present. I can’t let life (or my phone) get in the way. He needs my attention and in exchange, he’ll give me his.
While it seems intuitive, I can’t tell you how many people allow their attention to be taken away by work, texts, emails and phone calls. Their dog is scattered because, plainly stated, they are scattered. Technology has fractured their focus and as a result, they find themselves unable to stay present during training sessions and, more often than not, in life as well.
It goes without saying that the same principles can easily be applied in our everyday lives, and with the relationships we value. You can make the parallels to your own life as you see fit. In the meantime, take time out of your day, turn off your phone, and go train your dog.