Today I took Lyra for training with a few other trainers, and she was brilliant.
She wasn’t afraid of anything. She wasn’t hyper attracted to the other people and dogs present. She needed very little sightseeing time before asking to work. Her interest in food was a bit higher than typical, and she’s finally got enough teeth to grip a toy without falling off after three seconds. What this means is that I got to do something besides stare at my dog.
We worked on two things: heeling for the group in schutzhund (shown in video), and recalls/random drops away from me.
The group in schutzhund is similar to the figure eight exercise in AKC obedience. To replicate the schutzhund group, I asked my helpers to move around slowly in a random pattern and to ignore Lyra. I’ve practiced this exercise once or twice before, but this is the first time I felt like she understood that ignoring the person and concentrating earns the reward. By the end, I was walking her over their feet and she was maintaining focus and a very good attitude.
The goal of this exercise is to teach Lyra that the presence of people makes it doubly important to pay attention. To accomplish this, I start with a smaller goal. If she passed by a person and maintained attention in heeling, then I’d reward as soon as we passed. As she developed an understanding of the game, I gently pushed her out of heel position and into the person as we passed – if this distracted her then we’d circle around and try again.
Soon, the presence of people or feeling them touch her will become a reminder to lock on me and fight to stay in heel position. As she grows more confident and sophisticated, I will work harder to cause her to fail, followed by success. For example, I will have my group of people offer her food or toys, or talk to her in a pleasant voice. If she looks away at them, I wait until she convinces herself that she’s not going to get their goodies or personal attention. Then we do it over. If she locks in on me and ignores the distractions, I’ll reward with a high value game of tug.
I’m working to build a dog who chooses to pay attention because work is interesting and challenging rather than a dog who pays attention because she’s afraid of the consequences of looking away.