The Three Ds: Duration, Distance and Distraction

There are four stages of canine learning:

  1. Acquisition - Where a behavior is learned through the use of lure (treat) causing the dog to perform the behavior while following the treat.
  2. Automation - Where a verbal and/or hand cue is added to the behavior.
  3. Generalization -  Duration, distance and distraction (3Ds) are added one at a time, and after the dog is clearly proficient performing a behavior under different circumstances, the Ds can be slowly combined.
  4. Maintenance - Practice in everyday life, and add in some brief training sessions every other day or so.

Each behavior will progress through these stages for the dog.  In the Generalization stage of each behavior the Ds can then be added, one at a time, beginning with Duration.  Consider each behavior separately, a “sit” may be solid and move quickly to the Generalization stage, but “down” may still be in the Automation stage and will take some more practice before moving to the next stage and adding the Three Ds.

The Three Ds should come into play in every aspect of all training exercises.  When you are focusing on one particular D relax the other two Ds.  For example, if you working on a “sit” from a distance then don’t require the duration to be long and keep distractions at a minimum.  Once the dog has a good sit at distance, then gradually add duration, then gradually add distraction.  I recommend keeping distraction the last D to add, especially for younger or reactive dogs.

  • Duration - The dog is to hold her position until the “release” cue is given, or another cue is given that requires her movement.  Practicing duration is great framework for holding a “stay.”  Of course, start with short duration and progress to longer.  For a puppy just two seconds could seem like forever.  Make sure to set your dog up for success!  You know your dog, so release them right before you think they may move – success!
  • Distance - The distance between you and your dog.  Start with a short distance away in order to keep your level of praise and reinforcement high, increasing the chances of success.  When working on recall, try to find a good distance to challenge the dog – start out fairly close, and if this appears easy then increase the distance, but don’t go too far that it is unreasonable.
  • Distraction - Anything in the environment that draws the dog’s attention away from you.  When you’re in the house relaxing, the dog may be taking a little nap, you get up to get a glass of water, the dog knows.  Her attention is on you even while dozing off!  The outside world is tougher to compete with, distractions everywhere – smells, a leaf blowing across the road, etc.  The only way to compete with the distractions of the real world is practice.  Start slow with something as simple as training in different rooms of the house.  Then the yard, then maybe the neighbor’s yard, on walks when someone is passing by or you meet another dog, and new places (pet stores, front door, and while on a trip).


When adding a new D consider going to a high value treat (such as turkey) in order to help your dog succeed.  As usual, treat generously at the start of a new behavior and decrease the treat reinforcement as your dog gets more comfortable performing the behavior.  Don’t ask/introduce so much that your dog becomes frustrated, keep the training exercises upbeat, short and fun, progressing at the dog’s pace.  Stay fair and be consistent.

Chris Guest, ABCDT, CTDI