what affects learning

What affects learning?

The Three D’s

  • Distance

  • Duration

  • Distraction

When training our dogs, these three factors will influence the difficulty of the task being asked of our dogs. When we increase one of these to a situation, the more difficult it will become for our dogs to complete the target behaviours, when we increase more than one of these at the same time we are more than likely setting our dog up to fail.


Generally speaking, the greater the distance between you and your dog the lower your influence over your dog’s behaviour.

Dogs do not automatically assume that a cue from distance equates to the same cue when given in close proximity to them. This is something we must build up and teach gradually.

Distance between you and the dog, and the dog from other stimulus (its own point of interest other than you) are both important to gauge when training. The closer you are, with the dog’s reward, the more likely the dog is going to pay attention to you/it. The closer the dog is to its other point of interest be that a positive or a negative thing, the more likely it is going to hold your dogs attention.


For some behaviours we intend to build the duration that the dog can perform the target behaviour. While we are teaching, and the dog is learning the cue for the behaviour we reward frequently, to create a positive association when the dog completes the behaviour. In the example of ‘stay’ we frequently reward the dog for remaining in the same place once the ‘stay’ cue has been given and the dog is completing the behaviour.

Once the cue has been learnt and the dog is completing the behaviour consistently, we can begin to build the amount of time between each reward that the dog gets whilst completing the behaviour. Over time, the dog learns that the longer it remains in the position that has been asked of it, the more rewards it will receive, increasing the willingness of the dog to continue completing the behaviour for longer periods of time.

If we do not reward the dog frequently enough for it to remain interested, then the dog will be less inclined to continue completing the behaviour. The longer we ask a dog to complete a behaviour, the more likely it is to break this behaviour. Also, the longer a stressor is presented to the dog, the stronger the influence it will have on the dog in a negative capacity.


Distractions are a part of life, there are constantly things tempting the dog or potentially stressing the dog. It is important to train your dog while gradually building the level of distraction, rather than over exposing the dog and expecting it to complete target behaviours on cue.

Noise and movement are the two main distractions in the world, consider both when building what your dog gets used to. We underestimate how stimulating the world is to our dogs and most regression in training is because people ask too much of their dog too soon.

If there is a distraction, be it tempting or stressful, too close to ignore then we must either decrease the distance between ourselves and the dog or increase the distance between the dog and the stimulus accordingly, to achieve our target behaviour.

The longer a distraction remains present, the more intense it can become and the likelihood of the dog completing the target behaviour decreases.

All three of these factors work simultaniously. We must consider all three when practicing training a new behaviour or de-sensitising to a stimulus.