Mastering Dog Training: Ignoring Distractions

How To Be The Squirrel

This is the holy grail of dog training. Fix this problem and most problem behaviors go away by default!

The trick is teaching your dog that it’s in their best interest to follow your lead even when a squirrel shows up; that’s a hard sell.


You are boring, to your dog I mean. Your dog sees you all the time, and now they are outside and there is a squirrel or another dog or a leaf blowing in the wind. 


If your dog could speak they’d say, “you are old news, please get out of the way so I can chase things, pee on things, and smell all these glorious pee spots”!


In order to sell your dog on following your lead, you must be the squirrel!


Ever noticed when a squirrel pops up that your dog locks on and it has their undivided attention? I want that for you, and here’s how you can be a magnet for your dog’s attention just like that squirrel:


  • Use your motion to be interesting to your dog.
  • Use your body language to direct your dog’s attention.
  • Use your voice to make it clear you’re happy, playful, and moving away from them.
  • Use treats your dog loves and mix in a variety of other treats so your dog doesn’t know what they’ll get. It increases the fun of the game like a gambler at a slot machine.
  • Be the source of your dog’s favorite artificial squirrel (ball, toy, treat).
  • Use praise to show your dog they did something truly impressive when they choose you over a real squirrel.
  • Discipline your dog using distance to help them understand that being far away from you is stressful, but being near you is loads of fun. 
  • Discipline your dog using a long leash and/or an electronic collar to teach them being far away from you can be uncomfortable but being close to you is always a great time.


Not knowing which direction to move when your dog is ignoring you is making things worse.


Most people go towards their dog or stand still. If you do this too, this is why your dog only comes when called sometimes.


Your motion is one of your most powerful tools for getting your dogs attention! If you use it properly your dog won’t be able to resist the urge to come check out what you are doing.


Does your body language make it obvious your dog would have more fun being near you?


Or do you look boring, neutral, or even worse…. upset? 


When you call your dog, they quickly decide if they should come to you or not. If/when they look over you had better look playful, happy, and fun! 


Otherwise you are relying on “because I told you so” to get your dog to you and that isn’t a great option in the short term and it’s a horrible option for the long term.


How happy do you sound when you call your dog?


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone yelling at their dog from across the street as their dog runs away without even looking back.


It’s not a good look and it doesn’t work. The first thing your dog judges when deciding whether or not to come when called is the tone of your voice, do NOT sound serious, stern or angry.


We always tell our customers to use their happy voice, and we coach them on how many times to repeat themselves and how much energy to put into their voice. Every dog is different! You’ve got to customize your come when called “command” to your dog’s personality and current level of training.


Did you bring an artificial squirrel with you?


Playing with your dog is essentially a ritualized form of hunting. Chase the ball, catch it, eat it! All dog’s favorite games have some form of chase, catch, and consume built in. Even if they’re just chasing you around for a treat.


Playing your dog’s favorite game in the presence of difficult distractions is one of your best tools for becoming the squirrel. You can’t just show up to the park with a ball and expect your dog to choose it over a real live squirrel though. You’ve got to know how and when to use it, and the process actually begins at home.


Your dog needs to have a game they love to play with you before you try this out in the field. I haven’t met a dog yet that I couldn’t get to play with me on some level.


Once I find out what they love to do I use it to build a bond that’s stronger than the temptation of the squirrel 🙂


Praising your dog at the right time = gold. Praising with too much or too little energy = you and your dog have different definitions of success!


Let’s say you call your dog and they come running over wagging their tail. The exact moment you say “good boy” your dog takes a picture and stores it in its memory under “how to make my human happy when they call me”. 


You need to praise at the exact right time, and you need to match the energy in your voice to your dog’s personality!


Praise too soon = your dog comes in half way then gets distracted.

Praise too late = confused dog.

Praise too softly = your dog is less likely to come when called next time.

Praise too enthusiastically = your dog plows into you or flys right by you.


“Good boy” should mean a job well done, mission accomplished. Unfortunately for most dogs it means a variety of things and I’ve met many dogs who are convinced “good boy” means it’s time to jump on you 😂


What is the harshest punishment you can give a dog?


Separation anxiety! Most people think it’s some sort of physical correction, this is not so! Your dog is in a symbiotic relationship with you, much like the fish that cleans the scales of the shark. 


Your dog NEEDS you for survival and they know it. Without you your dog ends up on the street eating trash. 


It can be useful to remind your dog that they need to keep an eye on you and if they keep ignoring you… you might disappear. Doing this in a safe environment at the right time will have a profound impact on your dog and its training.


Also, this is exactly what a squirrel does when it disappears behind the tree and then suddenly reappears. It’s mesmerizing to your dog and we want to tap into that!


Do you own a long leash and use it? Most dog owners don’t. All dog trainers use them and you should too.


Running off leash can be dangerous for your dog and a big liability for you. Practicing with a long leash allows your dog to simulate being off leash before getting all that freedom for real.


If you skipped this step in your dog’s training, as most people do, then you’ve set your dog up to fail. The poor pup is like, “finally that leash is off, I’m free!” and you’re standing over there all frustrated and your dog literally has no idea why.


Using the long leash allows you to coach your dog from a distance until you’re both on the same page. 


We use the electronic collar in the same way and often with a long leash at the same time, but the e-collar allows us to get the dog off leash safely about 100x faster than is possible without it.


Also, the e-collar acts as a “seatbelt” once your dog is fully trained and having a great time off leash. Dogs are like toddlers for life afterall, and there will be temptations too great for them to resist.


An e-collar ensures they make good decisions when all your training isn’t enough. I’ve yet to meet a trainer who can train a dog to come when called… 100% of the time… around that dog’s Kryptonite… without an e-collar. Every dog has its weakness and thank goodness we have technology that helps us keep our dogs safe in the event of an emergency (think skunk, porcupine, car, aggressive dog headed this way, etc).

We teach dogs in our dog training in Salt Lake City that corrections come from over there somewhere whenever I’m far from my human. If I heed the warnings of my human everything seems to work out great, and we have an awesome time!

I hope you now know how to show your dog how fun you really are! 

Happy training,

Ryan Gwilliam

When you’re ready to work with us, please click below to tell us about your dog: