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Attention Training - I'm out of ideas.

2160 Views 8 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Linda Hazel
Hey guys,

I've got a couple questions about attention training. I've tried so many things and can't seem to get my dog to pay attention to me when we go outside. It's starting to become problematic....

I'll start at the beginning. This is going to be kinda long, so please bear with me!

I've got a 2 yr old lab mix (lab, beauceron - a french herding dog, mountain dog and something else). I'm part of a dog club and I go 3 times a week. She's improved a lot over the past year, but the issue that still comes up regularly and prevents us from moving forward is her crazyness and inattention to me.

At home, when she was a puppy, I was with my now ex-boyfriend who thought he knew better than everyone else how to raise a dog even though he'd never had one in his life and so everything I did at puppy class up until about the age of 1 yr old was for (almost) nothing, because as soon as we got back to the house, he refused to listen to anything I had to say and kept doing things differently. Since we're no longer together things have been looking up but still...

As soon as she's off leash, she takes off and runs around like a crazy dog and doesn't listen to the slightest thing I have to say. If I try to approach her, she takes off in a different direction. Or, she'll "listen" eventually, and come running back to me only to veer off in a different direction right as she gets in front of me. Just to really give me the finger. Here are the things I've tried:

- Working in a small enclosed area without a lead

- Working with awesome toys that she loves to get her attention towards me. (this worked for about a week and now has almost no effect...if I get a new toy she's interested for a little while and then couldn't care less).

- Working with high value treats to get her attention. (Same thing as with the toys)

- Leaving the enclosed area, leaving her completely alone there and then coming back a couple of minutes later after she's acted up. (She cries like the devil and then as soon as she sees me in front of the gate takes off's become a game and serves absolutely no purpose).

- As soon as she takes off, I give a sharp "no"

- As soon as she takes off and I catch her, to reprimand her and put her in the car (I've got a kennel in there) for 5 minutes, take her out and try again.

- Working on a lunge line.

When she's on the lunge line, she's pretty much perfect, unless another dog walks by.

The thing that bothers me the most is that if I'm working with other people and she goes off and does her crazy thing and they call her, she comes back immediately, goes into the "heel" position and sits down and waits patiently. So it's really a problem with me, stemming, I'm pretty sure from the early days when obedience wasn't constant and ever changing.

I don't know if any of you have been in the same situation and have found a different way to remedy this. The guys at my dog club keep trying to find ways to fix the problem, because they know she's got a lot of potential, but we've yet to find a way. At home she never leaves my side.

Thank you so much in advance for your ideas.
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I just wrote this in another thread:

I always start (every) training with this:

Cut some sausage into small pieces and put a few of them in your mouth. Then say to your dog "look" and at the Moment she looks at you, take one out of your mouth and give it to her. Do this a few times, a few times a day for about a week. Then start to wait a little before you give her the piece of sausage, at first only a second, than more and more but always in small steps.
With this method she will learn to look in your face and to concentrate on you and you can see if she's concentrated.

Later you can use the command "look" so that she walks proberly at your side. Because she is then concentrated on you, she can't look at other people.

The advantage of this; your dog will not know if you have sausage in your mouth or not.
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I can post more later, but just a few thoughts!:)

How are you actually training your recall? Which games and methods (other than a line as management) are you using?

The toys and food... so very often people use them to lure attention. Dog is distracted so they get the food and toys out to get the dog's attention. Doing so actually rewards the inattention. Far, far better ime to begin with capturing attention (wait for the dog to offer attention freely and then reward) at the foundation level. I would likely go back to foundations and build from the ground up.

As I progress with my dogs' training, attention is criteria for just about everything I teach my dogs. It's frequently part of the behaviors I train. I rarely cue anything without attention first. Attention is required to play the game/train/work with me (attention starts the fun, no attention means my guys don't get to train) and attention is rewarded with the opportunity to earn rewards through training and working with me. There's more and more info out there on training for attention/engagement. Denise Fenzi has some youtube vides, blogs, and even a book on the topic (Book 1 in her dog sports skills series is on Engagement and Beyond the Backyard may also be very helpful for you). Though there are plenty of other trainers who also have info or teach this as well.

Correcting your dog when she does finally come or when you catch her is likely to be counterproductive as it is going to be associated to coming/being caught, not with blowing you off. I'm not saying reward. I wouldn't reward with toys or food. I save those rewards for quick, directly to me recalls. But I also wouldn't do anything punish. I would try to be ''neutral'' and take mental note of the situation as it was too much for my dog and we need to specifically train for it.

Consider her emotional state... it's not unusual for dogs who behave that way to actually be stressed.
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Of course, waving around with toys for food is not a good idea, its not even a training.

First you need a command which means that your dog should pay attention. This does not start with a dog far away, but directly at your side. I would realy train a command for this first. If you just wait... with my Akita I could wait for ages ;)
But I trained him the command "look" and then he pays attention.

I prefere to have two people for the recall training. Someone holds the dog and the other one runs away (running, not too far) and then calls the dog. The other person lets the dog go at the moment when it looks in the right direction. And when it comes it gets his reward. Later you can "push" your dog a little with holding a bit longer, saying "where is he" or walk a little bit in the other direction. If this works very well, the owner can start do hide behind things and then call the dog. If that is also working very well (it's a long time!) then you can start do put things for distraction near the way but the dog isn't allowed to go there.
A reward in this training is very important, because the owner needs to me more interesting than everything else.
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Thanks guys. She knows the "look" command, but maybe I should go back to basics.

On a different note, maybe "look" will help in the long run, but when she's on leash she's awesome and does everything I ask and looks at me a lot. When I take the leash off, she still looks at me. As soon as I give her a command however, she takes off like the wind.

To answer your questions Kmes,

1. When we're in class the recall is a simple "come" command and she comes and sits in the heel position. For attention training, when she runs off, I'll call her and lure her with the toy and when she comes and sits at my feet (either in the heel position or otherwise, because what's important isn't where she is at this moment, it's the fact that she came back and is waiting patiently) we tug with a toy for a little while. Then I give the release command.

2. I don't correct her when she comes back. The "no" comes at the moment when she leaves my heel and takes off like a mad woman.

She may be stressed. She's very high strung with a lot of energy, but I don't know what I can do to help calm her down.
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In addition to the good advice here. Sometimes, stress will cause a dog to look like she's blowing you off. Rather than force her to perform, even if it is asking for focus and attention, you may need to address issues with stress first.
Some good advice and some other advice has been given so far. I am from the camp which would suggest that most dogs given the choice between a food reward or something else which it finds more interesting, will opt for the "something else" and essentially one has a dog that is not really trained because it makes a choice which counters the supposed training goals. The downfall of relying on treats and toys to develop consistency is obvious and the only way this works is if a dog's food drive is off the charts.

You mentioned " At home she never leaves my side." I'm guessing she does this without being baited with toys or treats and there is minimal if any other outside influencing factors. This is where I would start from and build on this behavior while slowly introducing distractions and other tempting lures such as toys and food treats. Place a toy or some food on the ground but don't let her take possession until you allow her to, basically impulse control training. Once you master this, do the same in a different setting with added distractions, one small step at a time.
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In addition to the good advice here. Sometimes, stress will cause a dog to look like she's blowing you off. Rather than force her to perform, even if it is asking for focus and attention, you may need to address issues with stress first.
How would you suggest the OP address the stress issues? I know how I would do it, but I am curious how others would.
Just as little thought.......if you're wanting her to come back and sit at your side when you're out ( as in training class) I would say don't. Be waving the tug toy as she's coming towards you and let her launch at it and tug/play. You should have a pretty powerful tool there if she really likes this game.
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