Attention can be divided – here Arrow’s attention was divided between following the path I had indicated, jumping, and glancing at the photographer (Joe Camp)
Multi-tasking means that attention is split: he can’t fully focus on more than one thing, and if one thing becomes too attractive, the other things will lose out. If the photographer is too distracting, he will not be able to follow my direction, or he may knock the jump bar. Training the basic skills without distractions and then gradually adding them allowed Arrow to be successful at performing agility in a distracting trial environment.
Another way to get your dog’s attention is to use the distracting environment as reinforcement. This exercise is another from Leslie McDevitt (buy her books and DVDs from http://www.clickertraining.com) called “Give Me a Break”. You need to work in an enclosed, but somewhat distracting place, such as a fenced backyard. Have your clicker and treats ready. Go out into the enclosed yard with your dog off-leash and give him his release word (the cue that means you’re done working, such as OK, Break, At Ease), turning away from him at the same time. Keep an eye on your dog, but don’t do anything to attract him. Your dog may run around the yard for a while, but will eventually orient to you, when he does, click and treat and then dismiss him again with his release word. You can add direction after your release word (you have trained a release word, haven’t you?) such as “Break, Go Sniff” or what I usually say “OK, Go Play”.
The enclosed area where you first practice this should not be too large or too distracting. If there are squirrels chattering in the trees, I would not take my dog out to try this for the first time when the squirrels are present. If your dog has trouble paying attention to you inside the house, try inside first. By practicing this, you are actually rewarding the dog orienting to you with the chance to go sniff, or go play. Rewarding a lower probability activity (such as orienting to you outside) with a high probability activity (going to sniff or wander around the yard) is an example of the Premack principle, named for psychologist David Premack.