I‘ve talked before about Denise Fenzi’s Beyond the Backyard book and class, which I teach — today I wanted to share a few additional exercises that I’ve added into the class during Week 3.
As the “bonus” exercise for week 3, Denise suggested trying to work in a new location.
I teach the class indoors at our training center — and so our “new location” is outside. And, as almost any dog trainer would predict, the moment we go from inside to outside we suddenly have very different dogs.
Since this is exactly the promise in the title of the book, I think it’s really value to include this, at this stage in training. First, it gives us a chance to talk about what we’ll see when we go outside, and why. Then it gives us a chance to help the people to generalize.
Despite much of the first two weeks of class being centered around presenting a distraction and then waiting for the dog to redirect and make eye contact, the moment the “distraction” is the world around them, people immediately begin to prompt their dogs.
So, I take one out of Deb Jones’ focus class (taught through FDSA — she also has an awesome new book coming out that covers this and more) and teach them to wait for “offered attention.”
Teaching Offered Attention
Before heading outside I explain what’s going to happen — we’ll head to a nearby grassy area, working as much as we can on our loose leash on the way there. Once we get there, we’ll each pick an area a little ways from the next dog, and plant our feet.
The dogs are welcome to explore as far as their leash lets them so long as the person doesn’t have to move — they can pivot, turning with their dog as they walk around, but the handlers should not change the area their dogs have to explore.
I warn them: some dogs will only take a few minutes; other dogs will take a very long time.
But that’s okay — their dogs can explore as long as they want to. The handler’s job is to watch their dog, quietly, and wait for the dog to glance back at them. Just like with our food distractions inside, no prompting!
When the dog glances back, they should mark that with their marker word or clicker, and give the dog a cookie, then let the dog go back to sniffing.
If the dog checks in again, we mark and reward that again. And then wait.
When we get to the point where the dog is checking in and only briefly glancing back around or isn’t glancing around at all but instead is staring at their person for more cookies, awesome!
Then we drop a cookie by our feet and let our dog eat it. If that distracts them back into sniffing and checking out the world, that’s okay. If instead the dog eats the cookie and looks right back at the person, we ask the dog for an easy behavior (usually a sit, down, or hand touch) and then reward!
We do this again 2-3 times, and then we move a few steps away and do it all over again.
What are we really doing?
Almost everyone who has ever taken a positive reinforcement based dog training class has probably been told to “be more exciting!”
Um, have you ever tried to be more exciting? It’s exhausting — and it almost never works. If your dog is truly distracted, being more exciting rarely helps (unless you were really boring to begin with).
So rather than trying to be more exciting than the word outside, we’re making the world outside less exciting… just by letting our dogs take their time and really look at it.