Last week I talked about watching my dog in a contained area, free to do as he chose. I talked about what I learned and why I do it.
If you tried that exercise and found it interesting, here’s another simple one to try. If this one sound familiar, that’s probably because it comes from my online class and book, Train the Dog in Front of You.
Starting wherever you want, attach a leash to your dog’s collar. No food or toys visible. Only one dog at a time. Now…go.
The only rule is that your dog makes all of the decisions. If you started from your house then your dog will select the direction of travel from the front door. Your dog will decide when to stop and when to go. Your dog will decide what to sniff and what to look at. If your dog chooses to backtrack then you will allow for that.
Your only job is to keep your dog and the environment safe. If you selected an environment that causes endless issues, for example, your dog wants to approach dogs in a place with a lot of dogs or is trying to pee on inappropriate things, then you picked the wrong environment. Try again. Work very hard not to reprimand, not to pull on the leash and not to re-direct your dog unless it’s required for safety. Be pleasant and warm if your dog checks in, but don’t start a party.
For this exercise, I selected an outdoor shopping mall for Brito and for Lyra, I selected a wide open park. You may want to do this exercise several times to gain the most possible information. Which sense is most dominant for your dog; does he stare off into the distance or is he all about his nose? Does he stop and listen for sounds? Does he try to taste things or eat them? Does he move quickly through the area or is he methodical and calm? Does he check in with you, and if so, after how long? Is he frantic? Does he enjoy this exercise or does it make him stressed?
Did this exercise provide you with any surprises? Information about how you might want to train your dog differently?
If your dog got the point where he just stopped and stared at you, what did you do next? If you decided to ask him for a few behaviors, how was his attitude? Did he stick with it, or did he opt out and go back to what he was doing?
I (and many of my students) found this exercise enlightening, to say the least.
Try it. Tell us about it in the comments if you wish!
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A great exercise. Teaches us to slow down and learn to appreciate out dogs way of thinking.
The area we where in was coastal Ruby ventured down around rocks waves and plenty of interesting things. She scuffed back to me when startled by crabs or bigger waves. She became great and checking in to make sure I was still coming. As this environment was very foreign she did a lot more checkin in. In a more familiar place the local pond/park she travels and a brisk Troy stopping to sniff then onto the next thing. Rarely checks in.
Oh, boy, I have tried this, although not consciously doing it as an exercise, as Denise describes above. But I have taken my dog to different areas, mostly parks. No matter what I do, I cannot get him to even look at me. Waiting patiently, lures (aka bribes), toys, voice, cues that he can do in his sleep…nothing, nada, zip. We do freestyle, he has his own solo and a group routine. Good at both. Our team went to perform at a demo, his attention was so non-existent that I had to pull him. He is brilliant at nosework, but at a park, or anywhere outside, forget it. He’s not doing a general sniff, he’s looking for what I call his “girlie” spots, which he then licks carefully, doing that “chatter” thing that male dogs do. Yes, he’s intact, but since neutering is not an option, I’ve just about given up. I’ve had dogs with lousy attention before, but we’ve always been able to work through it. Not this one! He’s a four-year-old Irish Setter, and we’ve been training since the day he arrived at 11 weeks.
Sounds like my girl. She is neither in tact, nor male, and is not a hound or hunting breed…but she just has no focus and spends all of her time sniffing and gazing about! Of course, I didn’t get her as a pup or young dog, and I didn’t select her with the intention of making her into a sport dog – in fact, I didn’t really know much about dog sports before I got her except that they were interesting to me in a hazy sort of way. I got her because she was friendly, well behaved, and pretty. Anyhow, here we are 6 years later and I want to compete in dog sports, but I sort of have to “dance with the one who brought you.” That is to say, she’s my dog and I love her, but I have to kind of go with her personality and level of dedication…which is much lower than mine! Lol. She is not driven by toys, and her level of interest in food ranges from low to moderate and depends on the environment. She’ll never take kibble or dry treats. She’ll eat soft, stinky treats well indoors. Outdoors or in new environments, it’ll take much more – hotdogs, cheese, chicken, etc. If other dogs are nearby, though, it’s nearly impossible to hold her focus. Not even delicious steak or whipped cream was better than merely looking at other dogs. Or sniffing. Or hunting small animals. Anyway, there’s no happy ending with my story or great tips, just some commiserating…lol. It IS getting better, she does eventually pay some attention, though at first going someplace new it’s like I have a dog that I haven’t trained at all. The level of training we’ve gotten to at this point, I suspect I could’ve gotten to in a small fraction of the time with many other dogs, but I suppose we might get there someday! If nothing else, it might make the next dog seem easy? ;D
It’s so good to hear I’m not alone. LOL. Dance on!
This sounds like my pointer! I’ve had him since he was about 10 weeks old and I’ve been training him (for competition obedience/rally) ever since he was old enough to attend classes. He is the first dog I’ve trained for dog sports and I’ve learned so much from him. We are currently working on our Graduate Open title (1 leg down and 2 more to go) and once we achieve that, I think we may call it quits for obedience, as I feel I just don’t have his attention most times to feel that we can be successful in the Utility signal exercise. (Yes, Grad Open has a signal exercise, but you can overlay the signal with voice command and many times, I feel he is going off of voice command…especially when his head is turned away from me.) 🙂 In anticipation of the end of our obedience career, we’ve started taking an agility foundations class, just to try something new and maybe learn a thing or two (not sure if we’ll ever compete, since he is 8, albeit an fit, healthy 8, going on 9 years old.) It is the first class we’ve taken that is taught outdoors, so it is full of distractions for him! The agility field is right by a horse paddock and somedays, the horse is right beside the fence! If we simply improve our focus while outdoors, I will be happy. I know he has the ability to focus, as he is very focused and full of patience with the backyard squirrels. He will sit in one spot for as long as it takes for the squirrel to appear and when he does, he will stand and stare or creep up slowly, often coming within a few feet of the squirrel (who apparently doesn’t view him as a threat, based on how slowly he creeps up to him…) If only I could be as interesting as that squirrel!
You are not alone!
Both my boys do freestyle…have their own music and their own solos. It’s great for older dogs because you can adjust to whatever they can handle. And SO much fun.
I always suggest to ignore or manage undesirable behaviors, and reward and/or reinforce desirable behaviors!
I have tried doing this exercise in an open field with no distractions around, but the result has unfortunately been the same. My lab just looks at me waiting for a command? (still learning body language) I hate to admit it but it frustrates me and I end up giving up and walking away. I don’t know what I’m looking for or how long to do this for. I try to keep my cool as we have tried this exercise a few times and the outcome seems to be the same. Still I haven’t given up yet maybe we just need a different environment in some time we will try again.
have you considered rewarding your dog for looking at you? That is an initial attempt to engage. Reading this, I’m not sure what you want/are hoping that your dog will do? You have to train the dog to understand how to get you to interact – read through this blog for more on engagement training to get you on your way.