Saturday, June 13, 2015

Focus work at park, Home Depot

After Ferretpalooza (which I still need to write about), I've recommitted to taking Chimera to a variety of places to work on focus around distractions. Last week I took him to a quiet park. I picked a shady spot and we hung out. Cai spent twenty minutes mostly scanning the environment. If he looked at me, I praised him and gave some petting. Finally he was looking at me more often and seemed to want something to do. I offered him some chicken, which at first he sniffed but ignored, but eventually ate. Once he ate the pieces of chicken lying on the ground, he would eat from my hand, and then he was able to focus pretty well (about 90%) for 4-5 minutes of work. I should have stopped after just 1, maybe 2 minutes. Greedy trainer! Instead he petered out and had to go back to acclimating. I waited another 15 minutes, but he wasn't ready to work again, and it was time to go home.

I realized that outdoor spaces are still too overstimulating for him. We need to get more success in busy indoor spaces. Yesterday I took Cai on a shopping trip to Home Depot. He walked with me all around the store as I picked up homesteading supplies. Then I packed my goods into the car, picked up my treats, and went back in for training.

I picked a quiet aisle and let him look around, and gave brief praise and petting when he looked at me. I think it was about 10 minutes in that he started to look bored of just watching and wanted to do something more interesting. I tried out asking him to do a few tricks just for attention and petting, which is medium value compared to treats, but he often accepts it as a reward (and it successfully increases behaviors) even when he's too overstimulated to eat. I did see an brief increase in focus and willingness to perform a sequence of behaviors. However it was not a pretty, enthusiastic performance. Then I pulled out the chicken, and he lit up and wanted to work.

We did one trick per reward at first, then combined them into sequences of up to 4 tricks, but none of them required sustained focus beyond heeling 2-3 steps. The rapid cues served to bridge better than doing one trick for a longer duration (such as a long stay or heeling farther).

We moved out of the quiet aisle and toward a corner at the front of the store. There was a moderate number of other shoppers. We did more short sequences of multiple tricks. Cai did better than I'd expected! He barely lost focus as people walked by.

I'm feeling proud - and even better, like I finally have a clear way of progressing toward my goal: a dog who will be able to focus in any environment, whether a trial or a busy public market.


  1. Hello! I think we met at ClickerExpo (Portland). I asked you about your breeder. I was googling papillons and stumbled across your blog.

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment. It's a small world, eh? We'll definitely be at Clicker Expo again next year, so come up and say hello again! :)