Anyone who has had even one session with me will have heard the words ‘focus’, ‘engagement’ and ‘distractions’ come out of my mouth more times than they probably care to remember.
We have to be able to get our dogs attention, in any environment, and hopefully then keep their attention for long enough to be able to train or engage with them. It is a training fundamental that our dog stays engaged with us, but one that is often overlooked when we get so busy teaching new skills.
So, what do I mean when I talk about focus, engagement and distractions?
Focus is literally the idea of being the object of our dogs interest or attention. At this point our dog may not be doing anything about that focus, but we are on his radar, and he is actively seeking our attention back on him.
Engagement is then the act of participation or involvement, so we are leading on from focus here. Our dog became focused on us, and then we engaged with him to do something – whether that was a recall, or some heelwork, an agility run, or just a game in the back garden, as soon as that focus becomes and action which involves us as well, as a partnership, we have engagement with our dog.
Hopefully then you can see how easy life becomes when we have active focus from our dog, and can easily turn that into engagement, no matter the distraction.
Now we lead naturally on to distractions. There are lots of different types, but the main ones are from other people, other dogs and the environment itself. I would imagine that other people and dogs are self explanatory, but lets delve a little deeper into the idea of environmental distractions.
At the most basic level these are generally distractions which we can’t control, and are just ‘out there’ such as birds, wind, water (if you have a Lab, thats a big one!), fox poo, leaves in the breeze, shadows, noises, adn most importantly, scents.
Our dogs live in a world of scents, and they will be getting much more information than we can even dream of when they are sniffing a new place. It is highly engaging for them, and therefore we call it a distraction. Remember – and this is important!- to the dog, it is not a distraction, but an engagement. It is only because it is, for the moment, not what we are wanting our dog to engage in that we deem it a distraction.
How can we help shift the dogs engagement back to us? Well, that is all about building up your dogs level of instictive orientation back to you, from the very foundation level when there are no distractions around!
We want your dog to come running to you in your house and garden to have a play with you as often as possible. Dogs love games, and there are so many types about. Even concept games where we are also teaching important behaviours like recall can be really engaging and fun for the dog. Games don’t always have to be toy based, they can be food based, or instinct games such as hunting and scentwork. Dogs which just love to train may enjoy learning a repertoire of tricks which can be quickly and easily taught, get you massive kudos at parties (maybe in 2034 when we can enjoy those again?!), and will keep your dog coming back for more.
In short, spend time with your dog, ensure that time is spent having fun together, as a team, and build up the distractions slowly!