Thursday, 1 March 2012

Building Attention in Distracted Dogs

Since I broke my collar bone I have been avidly reading a book that was recommended to me by our obedience trainer called "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt. The book is geared more towards agility students or trainers but if carefully read the exorcises can easily applied to your daily life. I must admit it's tempting to immediately start working on some of the more challenging exercises but it is incredibly important to get solid training foundations before a) adding more difficult tasks and b) expect to have those behaviors in all situations.

What I've been working on with Kobi is building his attention. This is something I took for granted when I first got him when he was young. I thought I never wanted to have one of those dogs who's eyes are glued to you at all times, I wanted a dog, not a robot. At the time I didn't realize that I could work on building Kobi's attention without creating that robot dog. As a result of my lack of attention building, Kobi finds whatever environment we're in way more exciting and rewarding than I am. I'm okay with him exploring and viewing his environment, but if I want his attention, I should be able to get it, at all times. Right now that is not the case. Indoors is not to bad, out doors and especially in exciting situations, almost none existent.

In Control Unleashed the author discuses building attention by using "Premack's Principle", that "states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors". Sounds complicated. How she breaks it down is that you need to become more exiting than the environment. Sounds to easy right? I've only been working on this with Kobi for a few days and I've already noticed a huge improvement, including his walking skills.

The way this system works is you allow your dog to do what they want. They get to enjoy the environment their in, they get to sniff and explore. Often the environment becomes more exciting than you are because the environment is forbidden. We prevent our dogs from sniffing and exploring, we demand their attention or limit them with leashes and pull them away from objects of interest. To become more interesting than the environment you must have a reward to give them every time they acknowledge your presence. Treats are better in this case because they learn to associate you with something yummy and happy vs play time. If you reward with a tug or toy there is the risk that they will only pay attention so long as you have the toy. It is also much hard to reward with tugging if out on a walk than it is to reward with treats. So keep something yummy in your pocket. Start off with a higher value reward and ween it down to kibble then finally nothing at all. Right now I'm using either cooked hot dog bits or liver fudge. Every time your dog makes some sort of acknowledgement that your their either click or mark it then reward. What I've learned from this so far, if your dog is already conditioned to a marking work or a click, it is okay to click something even if they are too far away to get the treat or make no effort to come get the treat. For the first few clicks they won't know you have treats. The key with this exorcise is to build criteria slowly. Start of for even a slight motion or turn of the head towards you to coming directly to you and eventually giving you undivided attention. The trick with this is once your dog comes to check you out, you must send them away again. I've been telling Kobi to "Go on" and motion away from me. If he won't go and stays looking at me or near me, I click and treat then tell him to go away again. By telling the dog to go away you are removing conflicting desires for them. They want to come to you because you have rewards, but they still want to go and smell and explore. Eventually what they should learn is that you will have something yummy and be desirable, but the environment though interesting doesn't always provide yummy things.

Below is a video from Dogmantics that essentially shows the same principle minus telling the dog to actually go away. She is just playing an attention game, getting the dog to focus on her. The difference in the two methods is she is making sounds and running around to get the dogs attention and does not send the dog away. Either method works, but I've found it is easier to start calmly, especially if your dog easily gets riled up. So just standing or slowly walking around and waiting for them to come to you without any cue.

1 comment:

  1. "Control Unleashed" is a terrific book, especially if you have a dog who is super high energy. I learned a lot of great things from it and lot of of techniques for working on calm behaviour when training in new environments.

    However, I do find the whole "be more interesting than anything else" advice to be so frustrating! We have been working on our recall for the past two years and I still have yet to make myself and my yummy tuna treats more interesting than mud. Some days I think I could wave an entire steak around in the air and she'd still blow me off to chew on some grass. These days I am working on being more important than the dirt on the ground, because apparently I'll never be more exciting. :-P

    Kobi is just so cute in that last photo! I love his freckles!
    Hopefully your collar bone heals soon!