Posted Date: December 17, 2015
In the final part of her series, trainer Lisa Lyle Waggoner discusses improving your dog's focus and conditioning to the performance environment.
Conditioning to noise. Dog sport competitions are noisy and
distracting. Long before you ever compete, classically condition your dog to a
variety of noises and loud sounds by pairing the new experience with high-value
food your dog loves. Visit a dog sports venue (agility competition, dock
diving, competition obedience ring); position yourself at the outskirts of the
area and pair the experience with yummy food, fun games, and/or positive
training of exercises your dog already knows and loves. Insure your dog is
comfortable at the outskirts before moving in toward the busier, noisier areas.
This is a great time to play the focus and attention games I described. If your
dog is successful, you can move a bit closer to the activities; if shes having
difficulty focusing on you, increase the distance and help her be successful
there before again moving closer.
Set the tone. I
think of this as implementing focus and attention games when I first begin an outing
with my dog. After parking the car, I get out with my leash in hand and insure
I have appropriate reinforcers with me and ready to use. Then, I open the door,
attach Willows leash, and cue her to exit the car. Once she jumps out, I
immediately go into capturing attention mode. I wait for her to acknowledge
me and mark the behavior and reinforce her for that awesome attention. After a
couple rounds of this, I move on to the Name Game and reinforce her for two or
three responses. This takes about 10 to 15 seconds and sets a positive tone for
whatever comes next.
If I were in a safe, off-leash
environment, as soon as Willow exits the car she will normally offer her
attention to me, in which case I immediately mark and reinforce that behavior.
If the environment is distracting enough that her focus is elsewhere, I cue her
to look at me by saying her name (remember, your dog's name is her cue to look
at you and wait for further instruction), then I mark the behavior and
reinforce it (either with a piece of yummy food or a game of tug).
Be your dog's advocate. Always. On any given day or any given moment, be ready to let your dog
relax or head home if she doesn't seem to be having fun. You want your dog to
be happy and enjoy the experience. Don't sacrifice your dog's emotional
well-being for your own personal goals. Your dog's comfort is what's most
Like a professional golfer who
continues to practice her putting skills daily so that her end game will be
sharp, you should incorporate focus and attention games into to daily life with
your dog so that your dog's focus will stay strong. Remember, the fourth stage
of learning is maintenance. If you periodically reinforce your dog's focus and
attention, from this day forward and forevermore, you'll have what I call
Know Canine Body Language: This
photo was taken at Paws in the Park, a festival celebrating dogs. This dog
is very uncomfortable in the festival environment, as evidenced by his
body language (lowered body posture, furrowed brow, lowered ear carriage
and foaming at the mouth). Not only is this dog very uncomfortable, but
the dogs handler is paying no attention to this dog. If the handler had
learned to focus on her dog and understood dog body language and stress
signals, she could have moved the dog to the outskirts of the festival to
work on helping the dog become more comfortable or removed the dog from
the environment altogether.
Part One of the series
Part Two of the series
Part Three of the series
A passionate advocate for humane, science-based dog training, Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, and a dog*tec Dog Walking Academy Instructor. She is the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina, with additional locations in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Space Coast of Florida. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com.