Still, I learned a LOT from this class that I will be using both for Cai's training and to coach my clients. (In particular, I currently have 3 ongoing clients who are training for various sports.)
These were the biggest take aways for me:
- Learn how to interact with your dog in a fun, playful way, that you can use to practice focus/engagement without using your dog's trained tricks. This is a key intermediate step that was missing for me (and most other trainers!). It builds up your dog's ability to work for you for longer periods and in more distracting areas, without falling into the trap of nitpicking your dog's work (which will cause stress for both dog and handler).
- Give your dog plenty of time to "acclimate": look around, take in the sights/sounds/smells, and assess the safety of the situation. If you do not give your dog enough time to do this, he will not be able to focus fully on you and the work, and you are setting yourselves up for failure.
- Sometimes the dog wants to start play/work before he's taken enough time to acclimate, because of the draw of treats and toys. In that case, you need to ignore your dog's attempts to engage until you're sure that he's truly ready. (I've experienced this with Cai a number of times.)
Here's a video of us working on engagement training on August 8th:
I have Cai's attention, but I have to keep the treats coming fast and furious to keep it. If anyone were to walk by, he would have stopped and stared for a good long while before being ready to turn back to me.
Here's our final video, from September 10th:
We have learned how to move and play together without the treats needing to come so frequently. We're both more relaxed. Cai looked away a few times when someone walked by, but after just a quick glance to assess the safety of the situation, he was back to focusing on me. After warming up with playful engagement, I was able to smoothly transition to work, and he stayed happy and focused! No deflation because work is boring or too much pressure or because he's conflicted between me and the environment.
I am beyond pleased - and this was with minimal completion of homework on my part! I feel positive about our future obedience/rally/freestyle/etc career.
Where to go from here:
- Continuing to stretch out the length of time Cai is happy to interact between primary reinforcers.
- Continuing to practice in slowly more distracting/busy areas.
- Getting the food off my body, so that Cai is not dependent on its presence. (Though the food will be nearby and I will still use it to reward him, and it will also function as a distraction to work around.)
- Teaching new tricks and tidying up old ones at home, separate from working on engagement outside.