Karen B. London
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Biggest Distractions for Dogs
Squirrels, bicycles, deer, runners

You are enjoying a pleasant walk with your dog when you are suddenly faced with a distraction. The severity of the situation depends on your dog’s natural excitability and level of training along with the specific distraction that has appeared. The situation might be no big deal, a chance to proof your dog’s training, a bit of a hassle or a serious problem verging on a catastrophe.

The iconic distraction is the squirrel. It’s no coincidence that when people are pointing out that their dog is distracted by something, they just say, “Squirrel!” in an excited way. It’s true that squirrels cause incredible challenges for many dogs and their guardians. Many dogs will alert, tense up and chase a squirrel if given the opportunity. Others will bark, whine or spin in circles. There are dogs who will lie down silently before bolting towards the squirrel, as though they have been stalking it. And yet, there are plenty of dogs who aren’t overly interested in squirrels and don’t react at all. Perhaps those dogs are just not easily distracted, but some of them just find other things distracting instead.

Among the animals that can be distraction nightmares for guardians are sheep, chickens or other birds, cats, other dogs, horses, deer, and elk. Any sort of person can be problematic as a distraction, but top honors usually go to shrieking children, bicyclists, skateboards, roller bladders, and runners. Distractions can even be inanimate objects such as plastic bags blowing by, trash cans, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and balloons.

What’s your dog’s biggest distraction—the one thing you really hope you never see on a walk?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Karen/Flickr

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Submitted by Bill | June 24 2013 |

So far our biggest distraction has to be the black bear we saw. The bear was munching on some berries and my dog Tymba ran up behind him and barked! The bear turned around and started chasing Tymba and he was running back toward me! I just stopped made myself as big as possible started waving my arms and started yelling. Luckily the bear stopped and ran off into the woods. Really don't want to do that again.

Submitted by nina | October 9 2013 |

Really! I'd be petrified! Were you in the US? I'm guessing the Catskill area? We haven't seen any black bears near us, but I've heard they're around, and wouldn't know what to do if I saw one chasing us!

Submitted by Aiden Kritch | June 25 2013 |

I live in a suburb north of Dallas Texas named Plano. Our community has an abundance of wild critters. The ones that cause my Boston terrier and French bulldog to "charge " are the rabbits that lay in the greenbelts, parks, neighborhood yards and walking trails. My dogs don't hear a word I say when they bolt after them. Although they are always on a leash, sometimes if I am feeling up to it, I run behind them for a bit so they can have their cheap thrill and exercise, letting the retractable leash out as far as it can go. Poor pups, my 11 year old Boston has never caught one and my 6 year old frenchie just discovered what they were about a month or so ago. Lol. One day I am going to let them just run run run and get those rabbits. Lol

Submitted by Susan | June 25 2013 |

The Big Curl is distracted by raccoon poop and abandoned foodstuffs.

Tank is simply distracted, every moment being new and different, evenif we walked by that hole in ground five minutes ago.

Sort ofmthe Odd Couple in fur suits.

Submitted by Desiree | June 26 2013 |

Beowulf is distracted by rabbits and robins. He doesn't bother the squirrels anymore and all other birds he ignores. Yet, those two are his white whale. He'll do flips on the leash to try and get to them.

Submitted by Jane Benoit | June 30 2013 |

My rescued golden seems to alert on other dogs when we are on a walk; especially smaller dogs. I have to keep him on a prong collar as he will pull VERY HARD to get to the other dog. I have tried in every way to train this out of him but to no avail. Other collars or leads did not work at all. Sunny is a large golden and I am a senior woman. So the prong collar is the only tool in my arsenal.

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