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
- 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.