Training Interest

So, my current project is Champ. After the vet shenanigans three weeks ago, it took me a solid week just to get the bandages off his back legs. I continued to pair touching his legs with treats, though, and now he’s not bothered at all when I handle his back legs. We also went back to the vet’s waiting room, and hung out getting treats while I handled his legs.

As Champ has settled into my house, he’s discovered the yard. I think he’d be happy to spend all his time out there, and at first, I let him. As he’s spent more time out there, though, he’s become progressively less interested in me. I’d like to keep his sweet, adoring, cuddly nature, so it’s time to do something about that.

When you have a dog who isn’t overly interested in people, you have to create interest. Every time they tune in, they get rewarded. In Champ’s case, I’ve set up short training times during the day. He and I get together (I put any pushy dogs outside so we’re without distraction, though Cash and Lily stay inside for role models if needed) and we train.

It doesn’t really matter what we work on; what matters is that because I become a source of interaction, praise, pets, and food, I become much more interesting. We worked on sit (which he already knew), touching all four feet (which he’s now quite good at), looking at his teeth (which he shrugged off), and “down” — which confused him entirely. Poor kid really had no idea! At first I rewarded even a downward inclination, and when I started doing that, he got it after a few more minutes.

Often, I can create interest simply through talking to the dogs (a reward) or giving an occasional treat when they come. Champ, however, has massive emotional trauma, and was happy to ignore talking and even treats, if it meant he could entertain himself outside.

It’s really handy to have a dog who tunes in. If I’m at a dog park, I’ll reward my dogs whenever they tune in, whether it’s with a loving word, a pet, or a treat. If I’m walking, it’s the same thing — usually a smile and something like, “Hey, kid.” Just an acknowledgement that we’re in this together.

If my dog gets acknowledgement every time she tunes in, soon she’s tuning in often. Now when I need to catch her attention, we’re halfway there. If a fight breaks out at a dog park, and my dog is already in tune with me, I have a MUCH better chance of getting them away from the fight than if they’re thoroughly ignoring me. If a group of bicyclists goes racing past and my dog has been tuning in, it’s no problem to quietly tell them it’s all right and for them to hear me.

If my dog doesn’t get acknowledgement when she checks in, and she’s not bred to be a dog who checks in, what’s to keep her doing it without something nice? If she doesn’t do it when things are calm, she’s certainly not going to do it in any of the above scenarios!

It’s also handy to use when you’re losing your dog’s concentration frequently. The other day I was working with a client to teach her dog not to leave the yard. While there was a consequence for leaving the yard (a sharp tug on her rope — usually caused by her own speed), there was also a reward if she saw something interesting, and instead of investigating tuned back into her owner — whether or not we had to remind her (a noise or word was our reminder). It didn’t take long at all before she realized that tuning back in got a reward, and that was better than staring at whatever she was staring at. Soon, she was seeing something interesting, checking in for her reward, and then watching the interesting thing BUT remembering her manners (not to leave the yard) because she’d just checked in.

There’s so many things in this world that are fascinating to dogs, we have to make sure we’re more fascinating, that it’s worthwhile to engage with us. Rather like a relationship with another person, wouldn’t you say?

Jenna

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