- What Is Focus?
- Rewarding and Reinforcing Behaviours
- Clicker Training
- Teaching Focus
Focus is a behaviour that is a necessary foundation on which to build all training. If your dog is unable to focus on you, how will your dog ever be able to learn new things? Without this essential skill it can also be difficult to progress training sessions to environments with any form of distraction.
Think about it. At home in a nice, quiet and everyday environment, if you were to ask your dog to sit, they would most likely sit. If you put this same dog around something more exciting and distracting like other dogs, new people, toys, food, etc… chances are the dog will want to go off and investigate those exciting things rather than listen to you.
How do you train a dog to offer a behaviour without showing him what you want?
As dog owners, we get so used to using rewards when we ask our dog to do something like ‘sit’ or ‘paw’ etc., that we forget to reward for things our dogs do of their own accord. Rewarding these everyday little choices reinforces all those little behaviours our dogs do every day to help to continue to build a happy well-behaved dog.
We spend so much time with our dogs that we don’t tend to notice the passing glances and the ‘check-ins’ that our dogs offer us, yet it’s these tiny fragments of time that we need to encourage. This is where clicker training comes in handy when training and reinforcing offered focus.
Through clicker training the dog learns to associate the click sound with a reward, and this allows us to reinforce behaviours that are physically impossible to reward whilst they are being performed. It would be difficult to time the reward so precisely that the moment our dog looks at us we throw chicken to instantly be inside their mouth. With using a clicker, the moment the dog looks at us we click – the dog understands that this sound means a reward is on its way for what ever they did at that moment in time – giving us a little extra time to go into our treat bag and give a treat.
When training a dog to offer its focus, we must first start in a plain, non-distracting environment, and build up to busier situations. It wouldn’t be fair on us to expect our dogs to even offer us a second of their focus in an environment with dogs, people, balls and frisbees flying around. Practising at home at a quiet point during the day is an excellent starting point. Start simply by introducing the clicker to your dog. Click the clicker and instantly give the dog a tasty treat – the dog doesn’t have to be doing anything at this moment, this exercise is to help your dog understand click=treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. After repeating this exercise, the moment you click the clicker your dog should perk up expecting a tasty treat; this shows us that the dog now understands a click is always followed by a reward.
Keeping ourselves in a nice non-distracting environment, we can now use our clicker to start training offered focus. In order to capture your dog in the right moment, they must first be allowed to be distracted. Keep a close eye on them and as soon as they glance at you (even if for a split second) click and reward, before allowing them to wander off and lose their attention again. Repeat this step, every time your dog looks at you click and reward. Eventually your dog will look at you much quicker after eating their treat, at this point you can start to ask for longer focus. So instead of clicking and rewarding for just a split second of focus you can now wait and try to 2/3 seconds. If 2/3 seconds is too much for your dog and they don’t yet fully understand and can’t focus for more than a second take a step back and ask for less. When you think your dog is ready try again to ask for a few seconds more. Work on this exercise over a few sessions, gradually asking for more and more from your dog. This can be by longer periods before you click and reward or by making the environment more distracting. A good first distraction to add is another family member in the room with you. It is important to practise this skill in a variety of environments with varying degrees of distractions so that focus is a behaviour your dog will offer anywhere at any time.
Remember, focus training is not only an excellent
way to teach your dog to be more aware of you, it is also a brilliant bonding
exercise and brilliant for use when on a walk or in the park!
Focus training to begin with is a waiting game, as your dog doesn’t understand
what you’re wanting from them.
Don’t get frustrated! ~
If you are struggling with this exercise, come and join one of our focus workshops or ask for a one-to-one training session with one of our force-free trainers at our park! Call 01482 762562