Yes. If we diagnosed dogs with attention disorders, Penn would fit all the criteria for ADHD. I’m sure of it. Since we finished the impulse control class, I am finding lots of little changes in her behaviour for the better. This session I am doing the Get Focused! course. I was so disappointed that the gold spots (working spots where you can submit video) sold out in six minutes! I signed up for the bronze level, meaning I have access to lectures& forums but cannot post videos or questions. We only have a few lectures up so far but the very first exercise has already made such a change in Penn’s working attitude. I am so surprised that I figured another blog post was in order.
When trying to decide what courses to take, I knew we needed focus. It’s our biggest struggle. I had no idea how to teach focus because it went way beyond my skills as a ‘trainer’. She would focus on me fantastically ..on her terms. At the rate we were improving (we weren’t), we were never going to be consistently successful. Which made me stress. Which made her disconnect to get away from the stress. Which made me stress. Repeat. Times almost two years. She was naturally getting better on her own as her puppy brain was replaced with a big dog brain but she certainly wasn’t offering focus in new environments or if a better interaction was available. The impulse course was fantastic to teach her she had to control herself to get rewarded& we continue to use almost everything we’ve learned in that class daily.
In new environments, however, we were still struggling to figure out how to work as a team. Realistically, I know she isn’t being spiteful by not focusing on me but it is still hard not to get frustrated in those situations. This course is helping by introducing exercises that make the dog want to focus on me. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about the course material (it doesn’t seem fair, really) so I will refrain from mentioning specifics about it. If you’re interested in what it covers over the six weeks, click the link up above& it will give you a brief overview of everything.
Can I just say that the first exercise to encourage focus makes so much sense& is so simple. I cannot believe that I didn’t think of it (especially as someone who frequently uses a clicker with her dog)! The difference that this simple thing is making in Penn’s focus is insane! Much like with our impulse control class, the results are pretty instant. Yesterday I managed to get focus at a brand new beach that she had never been before. It was amazing. I was confident enough to unclip the long lead& know she had enough value in returning to me to return! We played fetch with a stick& she retrieved to hand consistently with the only reward being another toss. When she was thinking about stopping interactions with me, I simply played the game again to reinforce that I was better than all the distractions. I have been trying to go to so many different place to find out at what level she goes over the threshold to think& focus but so far I haven’t found it. I was sure the beach would make her little ADHD brain melt out her ears but that silly game kept her with me!
Then today we had a fabulous focus session at a huge local park that was busy. She picked me over sniffing smells, interacting with people& other dogs& generally trying to disengage with me. I played the engagement game a few times as we walked around& after 15 minutes of that, we went to the soccer field in the centre of the park. She was totally focused on me. Her nose didn’t drop to smell once the entire time. At one point, I sat/ stayed her& jogged across the entire soccer field. She was laser focused on me for the whole time& when I released her ..boy did she fly straight to me! Needless to say, we had a party& big rewards for that (we can also thank our IC course for that lovely sit/stay)! Best part? I got strong, serious tugging engagement from her in that high distraction environment. That is awesome& definitely made for an amazing morning session!
This afternoon, though, we met up with Briar to play some agility. We took the equipment to a ball field where Penn& B often play off lead& with no focus on me except to return the ball for another throw. Was I optimistic about our chances of success there? Nope. I played the first engagement game& I had a fast driven dog for the session. I know that seems pretty minor to people with dogs with even some semblance of focus but this was HUGE for Penny to be able to do. It was hot, humid& there were so. many. distractions! It was fabulous. We didn’t do any hard runs but she was being an amazing little red creature.
Slowly, I am gaining genuine faith that my dog will work with me instead of against me. I’m being given the tools to know how to avoid frustration ..which is making a difference in how willing my dog is to work with me! We are going to be doing some agility demo stuff in our local exhibition this week coming up so it will be really interesting to see how the red dog manages to cope with crowds, farm animals, other dogs& food vendor smells. I have no expectations& pretty much expecting some serious zoomies to occur. I will be okay with that& just continue to try the focus game to see if she settles enough to engage with me consistently. If not, that’s okay. It just means that that particular situation is above her threshold ..and really, that’s an okay situation to be overwhelmed by! I will have a full recap of the two evenings to contrast& compare her behaviour from both. I think, slowly, Miss Penn& I are figuring out our way as a working team.
It hasn’t been nearly as easy as figuring out being a working team with Briar. Briar will work with anyone who has a tug.. Penny needs 50 promises, some tricks, a ball, tears, blood& for you to beg. I am thinking I’ve worked my way through most of those requirements after almost 2yrs together so hopefully she holds up her end of the bargain& stops being such an ass ;) Seriously, though. If you are having any focus issues, I would look into signing up for this class. It will be the best $65 you ever spend.. and I say only one week into the course. We have 5 more to go! It’s so nice to have the tools to help myself help my dog! Anyone out there with focus challenged dogs? I would love to know any tips or tricks that worked for you all!
Okay, enough rambling for one evening! Good luck to all the people I know at AAC Nationals this weekend but especially to the four Vizslas running! Show those Border Collies who is the best agility breed! Run fast, clean& have fun with your dogs!!