One and Two Way Alerts can be used to train assistance dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, diabetics (high or low blood sugar levels), and to alert an Alzheimer caregiver of movement by their patient. All these are taught using the same basic process.

It is very important before and during the training process to avoid saying “no” or otherwise discourage an alerting behavior in any context. You can ignore uncued behaviors such as a nose nudge for attention (especially if given when not during training sessions) so the dog will stop doing the behavior but do not punish or verbally scold the dog for doing it. Punishing or otherwise discouraging alerting behavior may affect your dog’s willingness to do that behavioral alert in the future.

Tips:
A. Use this Basic Process to Train your Dog to Alert to Any Sound.
For the actual alert, you can use a firm nose nudge, chin rest on hand or lap, pawing your arm, laying on your feet, face licking, jumping in front of you, jumping in your lap etc. Before training, choose whichever behavior is appropriate for the level of alert required for your dog to get your attention. Avoid using barking as an alert as it is disruptive when in public. The only time you might use a bark alert is when the dog needs to get you help from strangers during an emergency.

B. Having a helper (for at least the middle part of the training process) to make the sound or set off a gadget from other locations makes your job much easier and is clearer for the dog.

C. Choose Your First Sound Carefully.
If this is your first time training this behavior, it is a good idea to train a sound that is not likely to be heard in your environment (home, work or play). This way, you can use it to learn to train a basic alert and can learn from your mistakes before training more important alerts.

Ensure the gadget you choose:
-Is one that you can turn on and off quickly and easily with no fumbling
-The gadget making the sound will not wear out before you are done training
-The gadget can be set to go off at whim and in one minute (or less) intervals

Probably the easiest sound to start on is a knock (on the door) that needs no equipment.

When choosing a gadget that makes a sound, choose a sturdy one with big buttons. The first alarm clock I used was a small travel alarm and it was difficult to set and wind quickly and wore out after just three training sessions. I then tried to use sounds from the a computer but that was awkward, didn’t allow me to set them off as quickly as I needed to keep my dog’s interest at first and I wasn’t able to move the computer around to generalize the sound to different locations/rooms. I also tried a digital alarm but that combined the drone alarm with the radio noise and this was not a pure enough sound for my dog to understand what I wanted.

From a second hand store, I bought an old sturdy wind up alarm clock and that saw us through training the first 1 and 2 way sound alerts. This worked well enough when I was first training one way alerts and when I had a helper for distance and two way alerts. It worked well enough to train my dog when I was training alone from other rooms but it took a minimum of 10 minutes to go off after being set.

Ideally, sound alarms should be ones that can also be set to go off within a minute of setting it and more as your dog progresses in training.

It really helps your dog get the idea if the rate of repetitions is high for the first few training sessions until your dog understands what to do for the basic behavior. Once your dog understands the behavior, then you can use other new sounds that are harder to replicate.

See also posts (alert 1.1, 1.2, 1.3)
 
A. The Walk
There are two aspects to this behavior: 1. having a person walk by the dog and 2. walking the dog by a person. Work through both.

Practice on several other people individually, increase level of difficulty (may be from friends to strangers or the reverse depending on the dog’s level of sociability.)

1. Start by walking by one familiar person at a distance, decreasing distance at each pass. C/t for any loose leash, or focus on you. As you get closer, you dog may tend to move towards the person. To keep her near you, increase your rate of rewards. Practice on several other people individually, increase level of difficulty (may be from friends to strangers or the reverse depending on the dog’s level of sociability.)
Increase number of people to two, then three.

2. Next ask one person to walk by you and your dog at a distance, then closer. If as they approach, your dog tends to move towards them, try using rapid fire rewards (c/t done in quick succession to keep your dog's attention on you. Decrease the speed over time as they approach and she keeps her focus on you.
C/t can be used as an interrupter and to refocus your dog on you but be careful not to wait too long as you might unintentionally be rewarding moving toward the person. Timing is key here. Better to click to soon (for focussing on you) than too late in this circumstance.

B. People Wearing Different Clothes
Use people of different ages, sizes, clothing (hats, sun glasses, mustaches, carrying bags, add a pillow for a big belly, draped clothing like saris, etc)

C. People Carrying and Pushing Things (sound and motion elements)
Start with one person and one object held stationary. Then moving object a little, then more, then faster. Add sound (such as bag flapping in wind or umbrella popping open)
Train for canes, strollers, wheelchairs, skateboards, shopping carts, etc.
You may need to do some separate training at home first getting your dog to target then learn to push large children’s plastic toys, allowing your dog to interact with a skateboard (motion and sounds) etc.

D. Training for People Carrying Food
Start at home by training “leave it” cue for food, toys and other objects you don’t want your dog to touch when out in crowds. (see Sue Ailsby's Training Levels for a detailed description).

Ask a friend to hold food in their hand and cue leave it etc. Then hold it so it is visible. Then closer and closer to dog nose level. Place yummy-smelling food in a bag and ask a friend to walk by the dog. C/t for keeping the nose away, then for focussing on you.

Use adults, teens and dog-safe children.

Ask dog-friendly strangers to do the same.

E. Adding More People
Next, visit an outdoor public event where dogs are allowed and you can easily choose your distance from the crowds (check out your local community event listings in the newspaper or on-line).

Walk the periphery.
Walk a few steps in and out.
Walk further in and out.
Walk in longer or across to other side.
Spend more time in that environment-bring a chair and sit for awhile.

F. People with Dogs and Other Animals
Train for the animal first using the same process as for moving objects before training for people with dogs (or other animals) in a crowd.

Train each animal species separately –horses, cats on leash, ducks, etc.-whatever you know you are likely to face in your everyday life. See blog post (Distraction 1.3)

G. Go to Events or Training locations Where People Have Their Animals With Them
Start with a single species event such as a dog trial, then a horse event. A 4-H Club Display or County Exhibition can be a great place to test/practice the level of distraction your dog can tolerate after she has had much training.

Start at the periphery as for crowd events. Give yourself and your dog lots of space to escape and know where physical barriers are in case your dog goes above his threshold.

Move to small groups at periphery, before moving to other areas of more dense people and animals. Err on the side of keeping under threshold.

Be Proactive, not Reactive!
Be prepared for any situation and always have a way out planned ahead of time!

Anticipatory Training is the Best Defence
Once your dog and you have worked through the process of training for different kinds of distractions, you will be ready to take on anything. You can use the same general approach if something unforeseen pops up and each new challenge, your dog will respond more quickly. Mix and match the approaches as needed.

For example, one woman in a wheel chair with her service dog was at a horse competition and found herself just above ground level with all the horses running directly at her and her dog, then turning to the side to take a jump. For various reasons, it was not possible to request a different seating location. Her assistance dog was so distracted at first she was unresponsive to cues and would move to the side each time a horse approached, but after marking and jackpot rewarding calm behavior when the first few horses were far away, then marking and rewarding as each successive horse approached a little closer, the dog was resting comfortably beside her chair about 20 minutes later with the horses thundering nearby, ready to be able to offer her help at any time.

What Environments will you be Visiting in the Future?
Identify the potential distractors in each environment and work through each before visiting. Intend that each of your visits are training sessions and focus on your dog. It may mean you visit the location without your dog or stay at the sidelines to observe at first. Look at each location from your dog’s perspective. Make a list, prioritize as above and pre-train your dog to not react around those distractors (expose her to those under controlled settings such as at home, in familiar training environments etc.) It may mean you ask friends and family for their help, you may need to borrow equipment for a couple of weeks or ask permission to go into locations during quiet periods or after hours. Be creative and resourceful in gaining access to places. If you ask, and explain what you plan to do, often people are willing to help, if not professionally, at least personally. 

Choose a location where the subject animal(s) are behind a fence, in a crate or cage, tethered on a long line, on a leash being handled by another trusted person, or otherwise safely confined. This is for your safety, your dog’s safety and the animal’s safety.

A. One Animal
Start with single calm animal at a distance if at all possible. C/t for any looking or sniffing in that direction while staying calm.

Dog will eventually start looking at the animal, then at you in anticipation of getting the reward. When she is doing that 5 or more times in a row, start clicking the looking back at you. When she is offering that consistently, you can also start naming the behavior “Look” so it comes under verbal cue control. (Tip: “Look” is usually used to get the dog to look at something whereas “Watch” is used to get your dog’s eye contact.)

At the beginning of training sessions cue the look once, then cue simple or fun behaviors your dog knows in quick short bursts of 10 or less. Give your dog a one minute break by moving further away, disengaging eye contact, then move back in and try cuing a few more quick behaviors.

When she is successful with several sessions of that, cue slightly more difficult behaviors.

Next, at that same distance, drop the “Look” cue and just start cueing the simple behaviors. (Your dog shouldn’t need to look at the object/person of interest before doing the cued behavior.) Then try more difficult behaviors.

Next, decrease the distance a little.

Now start cueing simple or fun behaviors your dog knows in quick short bursts of 10 or less. Give your dog a one minute break, then try a few more.

When she is successful with several sessions of that, try slightly more difficult behaviors.

Decrease the distance again. Repeat as above.

Before you get too close to the animal, decide what is a safe distance and if you want your dog to actually interact. If you choose to have her interact, make sure there are other knowledgable people handling the other animal(s) and have a plan. Watch carefully for body language (to indicate stress levels) and have one or both animals confined behind a fence or on a leash so you can move them apart quickly if needed.

B. Multiple Animals
When your dog is able to work with you fairly close to one animal, add a second and work your way from the beginning through the same process. Remember that adding a second animal may chance the dynamics of the group so progress more slowly. Add a few more animals in the same way.
 

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, an object could be a ball, balloon, bicycle, skateboard, shopping cart, car, vacuum cleaner, riding lawn mower, garbage truck etc.)

For safety and the confidence of you dog, always stay with your dog, within leash length. Never leave your dog unattended (especially if leashed) when a human-operated object is in the area (with or without the human presence). There is too much risk of unknowing people making mistakes that can scar your dog.

A. Smelling & Touching the Object
Start object stationary at a distance that is below threshold.
Work closer in small increments until dog is in nose touch reach. Sometimes, you may need to approach the object directly. For example if your dog is focusing on a strange-shaped rock, it might be better to walk directly to it and touch it yourself, then let your dog interact with it. With a noisy or dangerous machine, it would be better to take a slower approach described below.
Other times it is better to slowly move towards it and c/t for any calm behavior and focus on you. When you arrive there, allow your dog to interact with it: sniff it all around, (approach from various angles), nose and paw target it, push it, stand on it -whatever is appropriate for that object, your dog and their physical safety, and social environment the object is in.
When your dog is able to stand or sit calmly nearby the stationary object, try cueing several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, glance at you, sit, etc that you dog can do easily or enjoys doing, Of course click and treat for attempts and good responses.
Next, play with a toy near the object.
Now ask for more complex behaviors-downs, short recalls, heeling, longer duration eye contact, and some service tasks (appropriate to environment).
You can add distance and hopefully your dog will be satisfied she knows what the object is and will ignore it and respond to your cues. If she does not, keep working her near the object or approaching other similar objects in the same way in other locations. Your dog should soon generalize that the object is an object, no matter where you are and not worthy of interest.

B. Hearing the Object
Add some distance, find the sound threshold and work below it and have a helper make it move with its sounds (bicycle bumping over gravel, brake squeaking etc) or turn the object on (if motorized) but keep it stationary.
Move closer to the object as dog becomes comfortable with the sound.
Cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that your dog can do or enjoys doing. Play with a toy near it. Now ask for more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

You can add distance and hopefully your dog will be satisfied she knows what the object is and will ignore it and respond to your cues. If she does not, keep working her near the object or approaching other similar sounding objects in the same way in other locations. Your dog should soon generalize that the object is an object, no matter where you are and not worthy of interest.

C. Watching the Object Move
Again start at a distance and ask someone else to move/drive the object.

Start at a very slow speed. Increase speed as dog can handle it. When dog can handle the object passing by and is deferring to you, cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that you dog can do or enjoys doing.

Next, play with a toy near it.

Now cue more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

Move closer to the object. You move to it first, as it may trigger interest or fear on your dog’s part. You want your dog to feel she has choice in approaching the noisy object or moving away. This will give her a sense of control and confidence. If at any time, she wants to move away, go with her to just below her threshold distance. When she is comfortable with that and able to focus on you and successfully carry out simple cues, direct the object to move parallel to her, then on angle, then more towards you and your dog.

Progress slowly and stay under the dog’s threshold if at all possible to build success. At each step, start with simple cues, progress to playing, then to more complex behaviors.

D. Unpredictability
Ask the other person to be less predicable in driving by, towards dog, fast, slow etc.
Cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that you dog can do or enjoys doing.

Play with a toy.

Next ask for more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

Move towards or away from object as needed for your dog’s success. Reward for staying focused and completing tasks!

E. Generalizing to other Locations

Set up situations where you and your dog encounter the object in other environments. Be ready for a training session as needed. Remember to decrease your criteria whenever you change a criteria (such as speed, loudness of sound, environment the object is seen in etc).

Can you see the pattern you are building here?
 
Be Flexible
Remember that despite your best planning, no plan will occur exactly as it is laid out on paper. You, your dog and the distraction or environment will demand that changes be made on the fly. Below are training plans (think of them as frameworks if it helps you be flexible) to get you started. Please adapt or modify them for your own dog’s needs. They can be used for basic beginning training or training problem areas or anything in between. Each stage may take one training session or many, depending on you, your dog, his previous training and experience with similar situations, the object, animal or people involved and the environment where training occurs. Don’t forget, you will be clicking (or marking) and rewarding for calm behavior or focus on you at each little step.

Your Dog's Perspective
When training a dog for distractions you need to think from your dog’s perspective. Dogs learn about the world using predominantly their senses of smell, hearing and sight. So these senses are what will capture their attention. Which sense is predominant is usually determined by the breed. So for example, sight hounds are usually triggered by the sight of things moving quickly, scent hounds are triggered by interesting smells, while more reactive dogs (like terriers), tend to be more sensitive to sounds. You may need to spend more time on your dog’s preferred sense than the others but you want to make sure you work on all three separately, then together. Be creative-ask others for ideas if you run into a real challenge for your dog.

Work on Only One Aspect of a Distraction at a Time
Break down each distraction into its simplest parts and work each one separately. Once success has been achieved with each one, then you can start combining components. This is what is known as raising the criteria or splitting the behavior.

Set the Scene
Also remember that if you are calm, your dog will be too. Take a helper to help setting up the training equipment or the environment, provide moral support for you or to interact/distract/direct members of the public as required. Give them clear guidance what EXACTLY you want them to do. (Stand up straight, avoid eye contact with dog, explain to public what you are doing when they reach a specific spot etc). Thanking them afterwards or taking them out for a coffee etc goes a long way to having them help you again-think positive reinforcement for humans!

Remember to Reward
At each step of the training, start by click and rewarding desired behaviors. And don’t forget to jackpot reward (a handful of 8-10 treats delivered one at a time) your dog when she does something that is new or a breakthrough for her. This keeps her interest and also motivates her to focus on you, not the distraction.

How Fast will My Dog Progress?
How quickly your dog progresses through each step depends on her previous socialization to the objects/people/animals/environment (that is why it is so important to socialize them during the critical period of 7 to 16 weeks), current level of training/teamwork, motivation for reward, general resilience to new things and places, and overall confidence level among other things.

What is a Threshold?
This is the level at which your dog can no longer stay calm or focused on you with that object, person, animal or environment. She will show a few signs of stress (positive or negative) such as taking treats harder than usual (but can eat), ears forward and listening to object, eyes open wide and looking at the object -but can still be redirected by a cue or sound that you make. She should also be able to complete simple task such as sit, stand, down and nose targeting your hand. You want to start with your dog under threshold and keep her there as she learns to deal with distractions. Going above the threshold causes the training process to take longer.