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Friday, November 20, 2009

What Happened to Our Attention?!?!

Beyond the Agility Equipment: Rouge, my young Dalmatian, never ceases to astound me. She is an amazing companion, rock solid in all situations and incredibly outgoing and confident.

Physically she was always comfortable in her own body and excelled when training our agility skills. So it was a little disappointing (although expected) when at our first and second agility seminars she was distracted and instead of working on technique and form, we mainly worked on a soft skill...attention.

The irony is that I've worked hard to foster her confident, love-of-life attitude and here her zesty character was temporarily biting me in the butt! The good news is that I have drive, the bad news is that the entire package of her agility ability has not yet come together....That's okay because as I mentioned above, these moments should be expected and are a normal part of the evolution stage.

Remember, we're our dog's mentor: In a previous post I brought up the notion that we are our dog's mentor. To recap, as mentor's we develop, guide, shape and mold our dogs in all sorts of agility skills. Ultimately the goal is to strike a balance between our dogs natural abilities and to develop those 'other things' that will ensure they are well-rounded and prepared to go out on course with confidence. Think of it this way, some days we work on Skill A (contact performance for example) and other days we work on Skill B (perhaps attention) and so on.

Getting back to Ru...and the seminars. Ru wasn't being belligerent, stubborn or willful at the seminars, but rather her technical abilities were far stronger than her mental ability to stay focused. Unfortunately, without the attention, our technical skills are worthless. And that's how a training opportunity is born!

The flaw in my training...I'll own up to my part in Ru's lack of training. I worked on the hard skills, shaped them and did a terrific job on that. However, I did not put as much work into creating attention once there was three or more obstacles in a row. Honestly, she was doing so good at home, that in my excitement, I rushed to do more course work and skipped a few steps along the way. Sound familiar? Yeah, lots of us do it and I'm human too.

What to do next...At first I was confused as to where our great work had gone astray. I mean it was so amazing! However, when I asked myself "What would you tell your students to do?" the answer hit me like a V-8 moment (you know the commercial where they slap their forehead and shout "I could have had a V-8!).

The answer was to break things down in such a way that I could now work on & reward the attention - I needed Ru to clearly understand what the expectation was BETWEEN the obstacles. So I followed my own advice and shifted my focus from obstacles & handling to shaping/rewarding the in between parts...You know, the places where I needed my dog to look to ME for direction and not elsewhere for an adventure. By doing this, it gave Ru something to do (that I was happy with) and we were able to keep our connection.

How's it working...GREAT! I recently took her out to a distracted area and was amazed at how much better she was doing in staying focused on the agility task. Was she perfect? Nope, but her recovery period was far shorter and her attention moments were a lot longer. I'll happily take that progress and continue.

Someday we'll have it all, but in the meantime we'll keep working through these normal growing moments and continue moving forward in our growth.

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