canine freestyle moves database

Focus and attention

“Attention” is the act or state of applying the mind to something and “focus” is a point of concentration or directed attention. Technically we have no idea what the dog is thinking. All we see is behaviour that we want or don’t want.

Dogs are interested in the environment and love to run and jump and play. The more the dog is socialized in his early months and first years of growing the more he learns about his environment and hence will not be so inquisitive later. Adequate exercise is important so that he does not need to run off and get it for himself. Training focus and attention is not taking these things away from him providing he is given adequate freedom to fulfill his curiosity and desire to run and play.

Before We Start Training …………
Like everything in life there is a Start and an End.

To train a dog you need to be able to:

1. engage the dog (Start a training or play session.)
2. train or play
3. disengage the dog (End the training or play session.)

To Start, say “Are you ready?” (or something similar)

To End, say “All done” or “Good job” (or something similar).

“Are you ready?” is to get the dog’s attention and he learns (later knows) a training session or a game is about to begin. The dog is attentive and works or plays until he hears “All done” or “Good job”.

The length of time between “Are you ready?” and “All done” is the time the dog is expected to give full attention and cooperation. As with all training, this starts out to be a few seconds and over time (a long time) this is built up to 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or whatever is required.

If during training the dog moves away/disengages from you, the dog is giving you information:

· The session may be too long for the dog to cope with.

· You are not giving the dog enough information and he is getting frustrated.

· The rate of reinforcement is too slow.

· The reinforcement is not of good enough quality.

· Your timing is out and you are not marking/clicking consistently.

If your dog moves away, end the session without a reward and reduce the time of your next session. You might be moving too fast too soon for your dog. Keep the criteria increments very small.

If you have trouble keeping your sessions short count out 10 or 20 or 30 treats and when the treats are gone, end the session. Keep the dog wanting more.

If you do not have a cue to switch the dog on and off, you can’t blame the dog for self-releasing his attention or a cued behavior. You cannot expect the dog to focus on you 24/7.

Most of us want enough attention from our dogs to get through a canine freestyle routine; let’s say 5 minutes max with the reward at the end. Focus and attention duration is trained like everything else, step-by-step, built up carefully and gradually over time, proofed and generalized.

Attention is trained like any other behavior is trained. It starts with short durations in easy (low distraction) environments and builds to longer durations in more distracting environments. It takes time to train attention duration.
Playing attention games can teach your dog to focus in any situation.

attention game 1

Start in a safe and low distraction environment. Move away from your dog and click any head turn or movement in your direction. Quicker movements away from the dog are more likely to get the dog’s attention than slower movements. Reward the dog. If you have an excitable dog or puppy make sure you do not click any jumping up and when you reward, reward with all four feet on the ground so as to not reinforce jumping. With a puppy you do not want to reinforce jumping or mugging you for food.

To be more reinforcing than the environment and have the dog want to be with you, you need high value treats and make yourself interesting to the dog.

To get the game going you can feed anywhere, but this is a great way to start reinforcing heel position.

If you are on a hard surface you can roll the treat away from you to give you time to move away from the dog. Move in different directions so that the dog has to “look” for you.

Once the dog can play this game well at home, generalize it by playing it in different locations with varying degrees of distractions. When starting in a new location, make sure the distractions are low. As the dog gets used to the new location start increasing the degree of difficulty of the distractions, or go to places in that location where the distractions are more “interesting” for the dog. If at any time the dog gives in to the distractions instead of choosing being with you, either the training session is too long or it is too hard for the dog. Reduce your criteria.

attention game 2

This is an “extension” of Attention Game 1. This can be done on or off lead. If done on lead, the lead needs to be longer than the dog’s body length, eg 2 metres or 6 ½ feet. If you are not used to working with such a long lead, make sure you do not trip over it.

1. Place a treat on the ground.

2. As the dog moves to get the treat run around behind the dog.

3. Once the dog has got the treat he will turn around to come to you.

4. Click as soon as he starts to come to you.

5. Place the reward on the ground.

6. Repeat from step 2. Repeat a few times.

7. Instead of clicking the dog for turning to come to you, click once he has come to you. Repeat this a few times.

8. Instead of clicking the dog for coming to you, once he has come to you wait for eye contact and click on eye contact. You can feed from the hand and then reset the dog.

This can be played anywhere. Initially this should be trained in a training session.

Make sure you are not reaching for treats or extending your hand with a treat in it as you click.

When you click, preferably stand perfectly still with your hands at your side.

Your dog may look at your hands because that is where the treats come from, or look at your treats pouch because that is where the treats are and he may glance at your eyes and look back at where the treat may be. Try to get the timing of the click such that you are clicking eye contact and not looking at anything else.

When your dog is understanding you want eye contact, if he is running free and he comes to you or simply checks in, wait calmly until you get eye contact before you reward him. Be still while you are waiting. When you reward you can give a variable number of treats consecutively so that you do not become predictable.

Once your dog regularly gives you eye contact, you can start teaching him to give you eye contact for everything he wants, eg,

· Before feeding him, stand still; his bowl can be near you or in your hand, once you have eye contact give him his food.

· Going out the door to go for a walk; before you open the door wait at the door. Once the dog gives you eye contact open the door and go out.

· These concepts can be extended for everything the dog wants. e.g. if your dog loves balls, try waiting for eye contact before you throw it.

additional games

A game to build relationship

A game for building motivation and relationship

additional notes

Using platforms to train your dog heel positions increases focus and attention

If out on a walk and the dog is running free, giving him a treat every time he comes to you to check-in, will, over time, increase his choosing to be with you. Over time he will check in more and more. A dog that loves to heel and has been highly reinforced for heeling will check in and place himself into heel position and start moving with you in heel position. Reward this well and release the dog because the dog may forget he chose to do this and you don’t want him to practice self-releasing from heel position.

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