The Four D’s of dog training are simply known as Distraction, Distance and Duration. They come into play in every context and in fact all dog training exercises.

These three D’s are what we consider the mathematics of dog training. We would suggest that you only increase one of these at a time to really maximize the dogs training.

However, dogs and people are individuals and depending on the respective reward and consequence history of each dog you may be able to increase these D’s simultaneously.

When we start focusing on the three D’s we usually see where training is falling apart or succeeding. We have yet to find any type of training where the Three D’s do not come into play and may simply just need adjusting.

TIP: the lower the distractions the easier it is to increase duration and distance.


Distance can help or hinder your dog’s training.

In the case of the reactive dog you want as much distance as needed when you begin to work on desensitize and counter conditioning the dog to what makes it reactive.

Far too many people’s attempts at reducing their dog’s reactivity find it is too difficult as they are too close to the distracting stimuli and usually for too long. (Duration)

Conversely you want a short distance from your dog when building duration for a stay so you can keep a high rate of reinforcement. Many people walk away too far during stay training increasing distance, thus lowering their rate of reinforcement and success.

Distance can also be a factored into your Recall as well as that sit & wait at doors.

We constantly see people work on Recalls at a distance that is either to close so it’s too easy or too far making it more difficult than it should be at the onset of training.

When first introducing movement into heelwork training, we are constantly seeing handlers go for a marathon and then wonder why they have introduced failure. We only ever go for a maximum of 4 steps and if the dog was extremely successful on step two, we will break off, praise and jackpot reward, thereby finishing off on a successful note.


Duration is also a very big deterrent for many dogs to either hold concentration, deal with frustration or reactivity.

We suggest you always consider duration in training, especially when working with very young dogs and also extremely excitable dogs.  Also not forgetting what we call the “poddy” dogs. As it is far too easy to keep repeating an exercise with the hope of a success when in fact all that you are doing is producing fatigue which will result in failure or shut down.

You want to start with a short duration so the dog stays under threshold. On many occasions have we set out to perform a training exercise with our own dogs, to have them succeed at the first attempt where we have finished at that point on high praise and reward.

We could have gone on and asked for a repeat and then had a failure … now we have a lottery situation, if we push on and ask for a third are, we going to get a success or another failure?

Was it or is it worthy of that risk?


Distractions are part of life especially for dogs.

Let’s face it a dog can be distracted by just about anything from the high value food reward to the wind blowing leaves.

Distractions are part of dog training no matter what, so we might as well begin to work with them and take them into account.

 Always start with the lowest amount of distraction and build on it as your dog progresses with the training.

For example, if you are working on down stays, get the dog rock solid in the house and the back garden before attempting the down stays at the park.

Distractions are often the reason for the dog breaking the stay, switching off or simply becoming frustrated.

Sometimes distractions are environmental sounds or sights. Other times we are doing distracting things, placing hands in treat pouches or pockets, walking too far away during stay training, or perhaps the dog is too close (distance) to the door or gate for a sit and wait?

Being aware of distractions and do your best to set the dog up for success by lowering them, this will help your training immensely. In fact,  we would say the number one reason why dogs are unsuccessful in training is down to some form of distraction.


How hard is the behaviour to learn or practice for that dog, in that setting, on that day?

Are you asking your dog to perform a behaviour that needs some physical conditioning? 

Are you asking your dog to do something that may be harder to do than what they have been previously trained to do?

Once your dog is successful with the other three D’s, it’s time to increase the degree of difficulty.

Start by gradually adding one D into your training at a time.

If your dog suffers two fails, go back and make the training easier, because it’s your job to be sure they succeed.

Remember to always lower the other D’s when adding or increasing the D you’re focusing on!

Our criteria in order to feel confident that a dog is fully trained, is to use a structured training system.

Within this system, all exercises are broken down into small chunks (stages) that can eventually be linked together to form a chain of small behaviours that when all are put together produce the overall exercise we required.

At the same time we are not afraid to go back down the chain and revisit or repair a link in the chain that may not be fully formed (back-chaining), it may be that we thought we had trained and proofed it correctly and therefore assumed that the dog had full understanding, or it could simply be that something has happened in either our handling technique or the dog’s confidence or physical ability.

To be successful in dog training requires the following:

  • Goals, structure, planning
  • Understanding of your canine partner, how they think, work and relax, what motivates them most of all.
  • Good reward system
  • Good understanding and use of the training methods.

  • Luring
  • Capturing
  • Shaping
  • Linking and Chaining
  • Proofing
  • Back chaining
  • Environment training
  • Reinforcement
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