These exercises are good for any dog regardless
of age and level of training. Don't skip over this step in training.
Dog need to know that he will be reinforced highly for noticing
you and maintaining focus. We need to show our dogs that we
can be as interesting as his environment. Understandably, this
can be a challenge to achieve when you eventually need to compete
for attention with other dogs, squirrels, people on bicycles
and the like, capturing your dog's attention!
Should you ask for focus?
Do not ask for focus at this early stage. Capture and reinforce
it when it's offered. Be ready to reinforce at tall times and
don't let opportunities pass you by. Use the clicker and primary
reinforcement, such as a treat. If they are not available, use
verbal reinforcement and praise, petting and play. Let your
dog know you like it. Don't ask for focus; you want your dog
to think it's his idea. Otherwise, you might have to nag and
correct, which you want to avoid. This is very important when
introducing agility obstacles. We don't want to fight to maintain
focus. We want them to offer it on their won. You get more of
what you reinforce.
Reinforce small attempts and pay off well in the early stages.
As your dog gets the idea, require longer duration of focus
(up to 30 seconds) before reinforcing. As your dog becomes successful
at this in quiet places like home, add new environments with
higher distractions. Raise the requirements only when you have
success at that level. Increase the difficulty in tiny steps
and raise your criteria slowly.
Nothing in Life is Free
Making yourself central to the eating process and you'll make
yourself very important to your dog. Don’t give meals or treats
for free; it's a waste of valuable training opportunities. We
should control the resources and become the source of the goodies.
Get down to your dog's level (sit in a chair for big dogs or
use the floor for toy dogs) and hand feed.
Another exercise is to place food on the floor in front of
the dog and cover it with your hand. Wait out all the pawing
and scratching that might occur, reward any backwards movement,
or head turn away from the food by clicking and picking up the
food and giving it to the dog. Eventually you should have a
dog that watches food on the floor very intently, but makes
no move to take it.
As SOON as you see the dog turn his head away, pick up and
reward. Gradually extend the time that your dog is left in front
Another very useful exercise is to place the dog in a sit and
very slowly offer a treat from above his head. If the dog moves
in any way, you reverse your hand, as soon as the dog is still
again, you turn your hand over again and the treat carries on
moving towards the dog. The dogs very quickly learn that if
they want the treat, they must stay still and as long as they
do so, lots of rewards arrive. The benefits are two-fold, the
ability to reward your dog IN PLACE. A dog moving as food is
presented can be the cause of many problems with start lines
- if the handler goes to reward the dog in place and the dog
is rewarded for lunging for the treat, it can cause difficulties
further on. Secondly it once again emphasizes that you are in
control of the food. Do remind students to give a cue that tells
their dog when it's OK to take the food.
From there it's a short step towards balancing a treat on the
dog's nose until the dog is cued to take it. This is a trick
that goes down well in many families, besides being a useful
opportunity to enlist the help of the rest of the family in
maintaining the dog's self control.
When looking at toys and many other forms of reward, such as
chasing and hosepipes the best form of control is to teach the
dogs that all of these things are available to them if they
ask for permission.
A fun exercise to do in class is to get a series of plates
and load them with bait, or if you have a ball mad dog, place
tennis balls on them. Get the dog on a short lead and hold him
just out of reach of his hearts (or in the case of gundogs,
stomach's) desire! Most dogs will try all sorts of things such
as pawing, stretching necks, lunging. Eventually they realize
that they are getting nowhere and at about this stage, most
dogs also remember their patient handler and they will glance
around. AS SOON as they make eye contact, the handler clicks
and gives permission to take the toy/or food. Very quickly you’ll
have a dog that glances at what's on the floor and then watches
his handler. When the dog is reliably looking for permission,
the handler can begin to occasionally reward from their pocket
with food or toys and walk on past what's on the floor. Once
that's accomplished, it' a short step to asking more of the
dog before permission is given, or the handler rewards and soon
you have dogs that will do a complete round of agility with
food and toys all over the floor. Remind handlers that this
type of exercise should never be turned into a series of failures
for the dog. As with all the training that we do, they should
keep a close eye on their rate of reward, start small and gradually
build to longer duration behaviors.
Your dog's create give him a place to rest, recharge, and be
"off" for a while. In the beginning, reinforce your
dog entering his crate. Sit with an open crate, a clicker and
a pile of treats. Shape the behavior of entering the crate by
rewarding small steps: Look at crate, move towards crate, one
paw in crate, two paws in crate, etc.
You can leave your dog with a toy in his crate, such as a stuffed
Kong, especially in the beginning.
You should expect your dog to wait for your verbal release
before leaving his crate. This is for safety and control issues.
If he rushes to get out, close the door. Start small.