But my dog does this at home!
As an agility trainer, I often hear the words “But my dog does this at home.” They sometimes send me videos because they are convinced I don’t believe them. It is a very different atmosphere inside an exciting agility arena full of equipment; sometimes the simplest of behaviours such as “sit” can be really difficult for the dog to perform, under these circumstances.
Let’s use sit as an example, as it is normally one of the first things most dog owners teach their dogs. You teach the sit instruction at home in your lounge when you are the only person in the room and all distractions have been removed for your dog. This behaviour is rewarded until your dog can sit on cue. Attempting this same behaviour in a different environment such as the park is very different. There are lots of different distractions, lots of dogs, children, noises, and asking the same sit to your dog amongst these distractions and the chances are your dog will be unable to perform as he did at home. If they can you are one very lucky person with a super brilliant dog.
So more about arousal. For some dogs they can become aroused by movement (like Zest). It could be in the presence of the food on the floor, or a new environment which leaves them unable to perform even simple behaviours like “sit”.
Some things to try to help your dog perform a behaviour whenever and wherever you want them to would be to move from the place you initially taught the behaviour and to try in another room. Then allow people to come in and out of that room whilst you are working, perhaps eventually also adding other pets into the mix to see if the dog can still perform the behaviour in the presence of distractions. Next, try going back to the clinical room and adding distractions like dropping a toy or food and asking for the behaviour before releasing the distraction. You could then try throwing or rolling a distraction across the floor and asking for the behaviour whilst it is still moving. Following this you could also try the dog in a non distracting environment on a lead and ask for the same behaviour. Then, gradually build back up the distractions until you can be in a really busy distracting place for your dog and throw toys or treats at the same time as asking for a behaviour.
This is built slowly through many different layers of training to help your dog succeed in new environments. Part of this is about getting the dog to fail in a place they are very comfortable, for most this is at home, by using distractions you can control.
This is particularly relevant to what Zest and I have been up to this month.
We are working on transitioning behaviours like a start line sit, or listening to what obstacle I am asking for in high energy and distracting environments with hundreds of dogs, people eating around the ring, judges running inside the ring with us, pole pickers sat surrounding the ring and even treat and toy stands either side of the rings. All of these distractions can make competing very difficult but when slowly added in layers the dog can be confident in many environments. You can guarantee when Zest and I are on the Natures Menu stand at Crufts on Thursday we will be practicing doing simple behaviours and tricks with all of the going on around us as distractions.
Please do come up and say hello we would like to show you our tricks and how we work around distractions. Hall 3 Stand 72 – Natures Menu We are looking forward to it already.
Love and Licks
Nicola and Zest