Assessing and influencing our dog’s readiness to work

Saturday, Oct. 7

11:00AM - 12:40PM

Experience Level: All

Before we commence a training session, start the next exercise, or enter a competition space, we want to know that our dog feels ready to undertake the task ahead.

In order to be ready to give their full focus to us and the task, our dog needs to feel safe in that space, they need to have previously built the skills needed to ignore the distractions in that space, and they need to have a desire to participate with us and engage in the task. When these requirements have not been fulfilled, we will find ourselves having to compete for our dog’s attention.

Having to compete for a dog’s attention is not fun, and ultimately leads to frustration for both the dog and the handler. Continuing to ask for “work” from a dog that is disengaged, distracted, and/or frustrated may result in:

  • Missed cues
  • Anticipated cues
  • Slow responses
  • Incorrectly performed behaviors/exercises
  • Looking away from us and the task
  • Stalling / hesitating
  • Zoomies
  • Leaving us to “visit” other people / dogs
  • Leaving us to investigate objects / pieces of equipment
  • Attempts to escape the training/competition space
  • Performing displacement behaviors (e.g. scratching, self-grooming, sniffing the ground, etc.)

Ensuring we only ask our dog to work when they feel ready requires accurate assessment, not only at the start of the work but on an ongoing basis throughout the session.

But what do we do if we assess our dog’s readiness to work at some point and they indicate they are not ready? These are the times we need a systematic protocol for influencing our dog’s readiness to work. The steps in this system help our dog to dissipate excess arousal, calm their emotions, and re-focus their thoughts. At this point we can then accurately reassess the best course of action in each instance.

In this session we will cover:

  • Strategies that allow us to accurately assess our dog’s readiness to work, both initially and on an ongoing basis throughout a session
  • Methods for assessing what caused a deterioration in focus/work during a session or whilst at a competition
  • Strategies for influencing readiness to work, both prior to starting work and at any point where we notice a deterioration in focus/work

Working spots: To gain the most out of this session participants need to have at least a few simple skills/behaviors that are reliable in a “boring” environment (i.e. they do not have to be reliable in the camp environment). Dogs with high level competition skills are also welcome. If your dog is almost 100% reliable performing all behaviors in a “big” environment, then it is unlikely you will gain enough value from a working spot in this session, but may still find the information to be a useful addition to your existing toolbox.

Presenter Bio

Sharon Carroll

Sharon (she/her) has been a professional animal trainer for over 30 years. She has been both a presenter and trainer in a range of animal shows, and currently operates a dog training and behaviour consulting business based in Newcastle, Australia.

Intent on really understanding animals better, Sharon completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Equine), a Graduate Diploma (Captive Vertebrate Management – wildlife and exotics) and a Master of Animal Science. Sharon is currently completing a PhD in Veterinary Pharmacology.

Sharon is a fully certified behaviour consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) in both dogs (CDBC) and horses (CHBC), and is a certified professional dog trainer – CPDT-KA.

Sharon guest lectures to post graduate veterinarians and behaviourists at several universities and organisations on the topics of animal behaviour, training, species-specific cognition, welfare, and psychological trauma in animals.

Sharon is an FDSA faculty member routinely presenting in the behaviour division. Many of Sharon’s classes, webinars, and workshops focus on working with dogs that perceive and process information in a slightly different way to a “typical” dog and hence may require a slightly different approach in order to be successful.

Beyond her knowledge of animal learning, Sharon is a sought-after coach and mentor for competitors in a variety of sports. Sharon had a successful career riding and coaching through to the highest levels of both eventing and dressage (Grand Prix). She has been an Australian representative rider, and in 2013 acquired her EA Level 3 specialist coaching certificate (qualified to coach through to Olympic level). Sharon has coached several International teams and countless individuals to winning performances. She is consistently effective at improving performances, not only for elite level competitors, but for anyone looking to improve the quality or level of their performance.

Sharon currently competes in several dog sports with her three standard poodles Jericho, Vincent, and Kane.