Friday, March 11, 2022

Training Around Distractions

Adolescent dogs often struggle most with distractions that are beyond our control.  This can be other people and/or dogs we meet while out on a walk, wild animals or pets that pop up unexpectedly, or any of a million other things that our dogs might react to.  However this is NOT the place we want to start with training sessions. 

If you want to help your dog succeed around distractions, you first have to teach them the skills to succeed on a no or low distraction environment.  All training should start at home!  There are a ton of games you can play to help teach your dog the skills they need to succeed while increasing your skills as a team.  We are going to be going over lots of these games in the FAD Mini-workshop that is quickly approaching!  If you haven't registered already, please do so here.

For this post, I'm going to be going over the importance of practicing around distractions you can control or manage more effectively as well as some tips for arranging those training sessions for success.  Since Azul's biggest distraction, as with many others, is other dogs, my examples are going to focus on working with other dogs.  These same tips can be applied to nearly any distraction you can manage.

Reach out to friends and family members with dogs first that are willing to practice with you as your run through various exercises and training.  You can use the same few dogs for multiple training sessions until your dog is catching on to the exercises and is able to respond to your directions around those same dogs.  Then you can repeat the exercises with additional dogs in your neighborhood.  When I was new to a community without knowing lots of people with other dogs, I reached out to local 4-H groups and dog groomers asking for people who wanted to meet up to practice similar skills with their dogs.  And that's how I met the first participants in my Focus Around Distractions Group Class that I now teach twice a year.

If you do not live local, you can register for my Crazy Adolescents Classroom to learn about the FAD Exercises I use.  This classroom will be released at the end of March!

Distance from distractions.

When it comes to conducting training sessions around dogs or other distractions, distance is your best friend!  Out an a walk, with an unexpected distraction, it can be hard to work at a safe distance where your dog is finding it easier to follow your cues.  But it practice sessions with other controlled dogs, you can work at whatever distance is needed for success whether that is 20 ft away or 200 ft away from the dog.  The importance of the exercises is to work at a distance that keeps your dog from over-reacting and with time you slowly reduce that distance.  I try to work at exercises until I can have a calm dog at my side with another dog about 6 ft away from us without any extreme reactions or need to interact with that other dog.  

If your dog is fearful or anxious, you might have a larger distance between dogs as your target goal.  That's where I shoot for reducing the distance we start at by half.  When Cam first came to our house he was sent over threshold by a dog at over 200 yards away from us because he was so fearful that other dog was going to attack him.  So my first goal was to help Cam work up to being 100 yards away from another dog.  As you can imagine, this took quite a large field to do this training in!  Along with that, I want my dog to be successful doing 2 skills with the other dog at that distance; sitting calmly to watch the other dog and walking nicely on leash while in sight of the other dog.  We'd switch back and forth from sitting and feeding high value treats for looking towards me and away from the other dog back to walking back and forth in sight of the other dog and rewarding for keeping the leash relaxed.  Once you master these 2 skills, you can start adding in any other cues your dog knows to the training sessions and slowly begin working your way closer.  This same type of training session can be applied to dog that is over-exited wanting to play with the distraction dog however since fear isn't involved you generally can make progress much faster and add in additional cues much faster.

Teamwork skills

With the overall goal of this type of training session being that your dog finds it easier to focus on you more then the distraction, increasing your value as someone your dog wants to be with is super important.  I want my dogs to choose me over distractions in the environment, not be forced to stay with me when they really want to go party somewhere else.  Do you remember being a teenager, not wanting to spend time with your parents because you'd rather go hang with your friends?  Adolescent dogs who are social, often struggle with this because their friends are simply so much more fun.  By using games during your training sessions, you increase your value and help your dog make the easy choice of wanting to be with you.  This again, is based on working at a distance that you make that choice EASY!  And you match your dog's energy level so that you become the most exciting thing in their world.  Dog trainers around the world have developed hundreds of games to help teach this.  I'm going to be demonstrating some of my favorite games in the FAD Mini-Workshop each day, and so will my co-host Cindy Campbell.

Part of my Focus Around Distractions Class is teaching people who to determine which games will work best for their dog.  Since dog's choice what they like best, we can increase their chance of success if we learn what motivates them the most.  For Cam, that's a tennis ball.  For Azul that's typically tug or chase games (not using a ball), especially using his flirt pole. However, we can't just chuck a ball or carry a flirt pole around with us 24/7 for those unexpected distractions.  But we can increase our game base to include games that teach the concepts we will use in our training sessions with controlled distractions.

FAD Mini-Workshop

Have I got you excited about our FAD Mini-Workshop yet?  I hope so, because it's going to be simply amazing!  I hope you plan on attending as it is free.  We've been fielding a few questions about the workshop, so I'm going to answer a few of those here.

First we are using 2 platforms to make it easy for everyone!  The first would be this website where the resources presented will remain available long after the workshop is over.  The second platform we are using is a Facebook event to make it easier for all those social people who prefer that format.  Both formats will have the exact same info, so you only have to follow one each day not both.  You can choose which ever format works best for you.  The FB Event will only be available during the event though so if you participate there, you may also want to bookmark this blog so you can refer back to the materials after the workshop is complete.

Time of day:  
The workshop is scheduled to be at 8AM Central Time.  However this is just the time of day that the training materials will be released.  You are in no way required to participate at that time!  You can watch and read the materials at any time throughout the day.

If you have any additional questions, let us know.  Cindy and I are happy to help make this workshop successful for everyone!

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Considering How The Environment Affects Distractions

If you're heading out the door with your dog for some fun and training, choosing the right environment can be essential!  In February I wrote about picking new environments wisely, so read that post here. For this blog, I'm going to focus on matching the environment to the energy level you want for the training you are hoping to accomplish.  As owners, we probably all know certain things that get out dogs more excited then others!  And this is where we can use common environmental predictors to set the stage for a successful training session.

What is your dog's #1 Distraction?

I'm going to use Azul's love of making new doggy friends for this example.  As a frequent dog park attendee (with extreme caution), Azul has such a love for this location that he starts loosing his mind at 8 blocks away due to excitement.  My normally, calm & quiet teenager turns into a loud, obnoxious teenager going to the amusement park to ride the rollercoasters.  If my intended training session is to help Azul switch back and forth (engage & disengage) while in a high arousal state, I might choose this location.  However, if my goal for the session is to practice leash manners I'd be choosing the wrong environment for that and setting us both up to fail.

Being winter weather and not being able to get out as frequently as we'd like, Azul's outdoor leash manners need some spring touch ups.  This means that I'm going to choose some more remote locations to practice leash skills where Azul can stay in a calmer, less aroused emotional state.  One of our favorite places to walk last fall was a 1 mile loop around Strawberry Lake.  But this being one of the only paved and plowed paths in our area during the winter so this path is used frequently by dog owners.  Add in the snowbanks on the sides of the trail, and this limits our ability to move off to the side if another dog is passing.  Three walks in a row we were met by new dogs in the same short stretch on the back side of the lake.  On the fourth walk, Azul had difficulties focusing at this part of the trail in anticipation of meeting a new friend there.  And since this was mid-walk, Azul's energy remained higher the rest of the walk.

Now setting that location up for success, I made a few changes to make that section of the trail non-eventful.  First, we altered our time to earlier morning before the temps became more tolerable to others.  Second, we parked at the back lot where we could walk towards this spot or away from it depending on how Azul was able to focus.  This made the trouble area first or last in walk instead of right in the middle!  I decided to do it first because the other lots at the other side were still empty allowing me to reasonably expect no new greetings at this same location right away.  This also helped Azul walk slower because he wanted to sniff all the p-mail more extensively.  I was able to wait till we were passed the trouble area before asking Azul to give me a bit more focus.  At the end of the walk, I was able to put Azul's longline on in the empty parking lot where I could do some work and he could watch dogs on the trail from a safe distance, without interacting.

Now for the picture at the top of the page.  This environment was chosen for a very different reason!  I have Azul and puppy Roz who both need some decompression sniff-a-bouts and a chance to potty before we go inside a pet store for training.  But the 2 have not had a chance for off leash play yet and Roz has no longline skills yet.  So I chose a spot behind an empty building near the pet store as it was plowed for safe walking, but I could reasonably expect no other cars or dogs to enter our environment.

This is another sniff-a-bout on our property with Azul & Roz

We chose the pet store as our first indoor walking location so I could let the dogs move more freely and observe Roz to see if she would be just as confident and happy walking with us as she was walking with her person earlier in the day.  Pet stores are super distracting locations for young pups so we didn't do any work on her leash manners here.  The goal of the session was for me to watch and observe the interactions between Azul and Roz in a higher arousal environment.

Now fast forward a day, and change to a much less arousing store environment and Azul and I were able to begin teaching Roz some indoor leash skills.  Here you can see how quickly Little Miss Roz is learning her heel position in the right environment for the session.

So before you head out to do any training session, think about what are your chances of running into your dog's biggest distractions in the environment and what are your goals for this outing.  Set your team up for success by matching the environment to the arousal level you want to work at during that session.  Don't just head out and hope for the best because that rarely happens unless we make good choices about our environment.

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...