In addition to learning specific skills, Brito is learning to accept, or even look forwards to, the “pressure” that is inherent in competition dog sports.
There are four basic sources of pressure: people, dogs, places and things. Some dogs will have no issues with any of these factors and other dogs will have issues with all of them. It just depends! Because most of us do not have unlimited time to train our dogs, it makes sense to take a moment to figure out what your dog needs, and then focus on those specific elements.
Brito is fine in new places and he’s generally comfortable with people. He struggles with dogs (he’s afraid of them) and with the pressure of “things” like walls, baby gates, people as objects, etc.
In today’s lesson on pressure, I focus on two of Brito’s issues – dogs and things. To do this, I systematically expose him to SMALL doses of pressure – allow him to adjust, and then release the pressure by either moving away or asking the source of the stress to leave (if it’s a person).
When the pressure is released Brito gets two rewards – I move away from the pressure (first reward) and he gets a high value cookie (second reward). Note that I do NOT give him the cookie when he’s experiencing the pressure. The reason is that I want him to be well aware of what is happening, focus on succeeding with the task, and then accept his classic reward (food or toys) when the pressure is reducing.
Brito has been working on these lessons his entire life.
If you select the right amount of pressure, your dog should show little or no reaction to the stressor. If your dog responds in a negative fashion (ears go back, depressed attitude, leaves the situation etc.) then you went too far – ask for an easier version of the same behavior. For example, if heeling up to a baby gate in order to perform an about turn 6″ from the gate stresses your dog, then start at 3′. Work up to almost touching the gates during that about turn, but take your time!
Here’s a video:
Learning to accept pressure is part of Trial Preparation. I am teaching a class on this topic now at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. The class is titled Bridging the Gap; Reducing Reinforcers, Proofing and Generalization. I’d love to see some of you join me! Be aware that today (February 15th) is the last day to register, and class started two weeks ago so…you’ll be playing catch up!
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What do you recommend for a dog that has issues with new places? Most of our trial sites are indoors and as soon as we step inside, even if just for one second, I would say he is immediately over threshold. So do I start working with him on the approach to new buildings/places (i.e don’t go inside)? I am just wondering how we will ever transition to working inside without him going over threshold. Thanks!
That’s incredibly difficult. I would find areas that are “half in and half out” like outdoor malls, the garden area of home depot, shopping areas with overhangs, etc. Work that first. Then when you do go inside, go to the quietest place possible and don’t even try to work. Just exist.
Great, thank you!
Great suggestion. I like the just exist part. When my dog was overwhelmed and I couldn’t leave the situation this has helped. Sometimes working is just too hard under pressure.