“When we are training our dogs we can often stay in our comfort zone, doing the things our dogs are already good at. Sometimes this is looked upon as showing off, but I think it’s often more a fear of failure. Becoming skilled at something feels great and it takes guts to go back to being an unskilled learner. This is however the only way to progress. I personally love learning and love being a learner as much as a teacher.
In one of my classes the group had some really lovely focus and heelwork…until I walked past! Distractions are the dog training nemesis. People tell me ‘But he can do this, when there aren’t distractions’ or ‘he can do it brilliantly at home.’ For me good dog training is all about training with distractions. This means stepping out of your comfort zone but it is the only way to progress. It has to be done gradually and systematically though so we can reward the right behaviour and increase the distraction pressure.
Training is a 3-stage process
Learning – the specific behaviour and the cue or command that goes with it.
Practice or Proofing – is about getting it to happen, anytime , anyplace, anywhere. Filtering distractions and focusing on a task is a cognitive skill called stability that needs to be learned so the dog can do the behaviours you have taught it. The ability to control impulses is also a skill that needs to learned as poor impulse control causes behaviour to fall apart.
Performance – is the end goal. For me it’s working my dogs in the field. For the Agility competitor it’s the competition. For the assistance dog it’s helping its owner everyday in every situation. For the pet owner it’s the ability to listen and behave in public as well as at home.
Cognitive Stability & Impulse Control
The ability to ignore distractions requires:
- Cognitive Stability
- Impulse Control
Tip for the week?
Teach your dog some basic cognitive stability. Teach your dog to catch treats!
This is more fun for the dog than just eating treats and catching is a skill that requires focus and attention. Dogs like to be challenged and to be good at catching your dog needs to filter out any distractions and be cognitively stable. Catching something motivates your dog to filter out distractions and focus on the task. If you don’t believe me, then next time your dog chases a squirrel, ask yourself did he effectively filter out you and your recall and focus on the task of squirrel chasing?”
Thank you to Jane Arden, Dog Trainer and Founder of Waggawuffins for the original article.
(Adapted by Joy Matthews)