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Focus, distraction, and motivators

873 Views 4 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  TheAdventureK9
Hey guys!

I know I haven't been posting much lately. Things have been pretty busy! But! Ginny just finished up Puppy II (second class she's taken).

My biggest issue with her is that when we are out and about, especially anywhere there are lots of people and dogs, she does not want to focus on me. Puppy II was a bit of a nightmare. The first night of class, she wouldn't so much as look at me, even though I had hot dogs, chicken, and cheese. The second class was marginally better, but not much. It wasn't until the 5th/6th class that I could get her to focus on me, and after playtime (middle of class), it was usually quite difficult. We had times during playtime that we were supposed to get our dogs to focus on us instead of playing, then once we got them to do simple things, release them back to playing. I couldn't get her to focus on me at alll.

The funny thing is that at home, she is pretty much a velcro dog, so attention work is easy peasy. However, our house is right across the street from a popular neighborhood park, so even stepping outside raises the stakes quite a bit more than a normal neighborhood yard. Plus it's been ridiculously hot and bug-tastic, so it's been too difficult to try to work in the back yard =/ Anywhere else is just wayyyy too much distraction to do attention work.

If there's no one else around, we can get her to focus on us when we're walking (with name calling -- offered attention is really not a thing she does when walking. If we stand still, she will resolutely look at everything other than me or my husband). But the instant there's another dog or person in sight (or god forbid it be a kid, because she LOOOOVES kids), she's super focused on them. This makes it really hard to work on friendly greetings, because while we can distract her while they're far away, if they're two leash lengths away or any closer, she's jumping and pulling to see them. The funny thing is that she knows not to jump with me or my husband, and when people get right up close, she'll usually stop jumping, but at that mid distance, she's pulling and jumping to get closer and there's no way to distract her.

My real concern with this is now that she's decided bikes and certain vehicles must be herded, so she's taken to running after bikes and cars. Luckily, she's always on a leash when outside, but because the bike/car is infinitely more interesting than us, it's impossible to keep her attention. If we can see a bike coming from a distance, we'll get her in a sit and treat her for just watching while sitting (pretty much constant stream of treats). But as the bike gets closer, she starts refusing treats and then as it gets even closer she leaps up to intercept it.

What makes this even more difficult is that she's just not that food motivated. There are treats that she likes, but if she's not super hungry or more distracted by other things, even chicken and hot dogs are not enough to get her attention. Liver treats are booooring and anything else just won't even get her to pay attention even if there's no one else around unless we're at home, and sometimes she'll turn her nose up at them there, too. She is toy motivated to some extent, but again, if she's distracted, she won't pay attention to any toy, either.

I'm sure some of this is just puppy-ness. She just turned 5 months and her attention span definitely is not the longest. But guys, she is SO smart and she wants to learn so bad. But it's so hard to teach a lot of things if the only place she'll do them is in the house. And attention is the main ingredient for a solid recall, and that's the most important thing to me, and we're just not there at all. I'm planning on retaking Puppy II just because Ginny needs the socialization hour still (which isn't offered after Puppy II) and also because I'm hoping not working on new things will help to build attention.

SOooo, after all that babble, I'm just wondering if anyone has suggestions on how to make yourself the most awesome and wonderful and exciting thing in the world so that your dog likes to focus on you, especially if said dog is not super food motivated. ;P

Thank you for being awesome. <3

Oh! Here's a picture from Sunday!


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@Sha she is getting so big! She's so pretty! I had to chuckle a little when I was reading your post because I feel like I struggled with the complete opposite when doing my puppy classes with Aspen! In the yard, she was distracted by birds, people, leaves blowing, etc- and I live on a dead end road with 4 houses haha. In class, she was a STAR! We were never able to work on her issues in class because no matter what we did, she was totally perfect. It was frustrating when I was first starting out BUT it did force me to figure it out on my own.

Another thing is that she is NOT food motivated. We've been in class and I'll give her cheese (she loves cheese) as a reward and she would spit it out. She just doesn't always want food rewards. Between puppy classes and CGC classes, I started teaching her tricks just for something to do. I'd watch a YouTube video or a video on a FB group and teach her a new trick almost each week. SHE LOVED IT! Like Ginny, she loves to work. I started using tricks as a reward. During CGC class, if we had to go in the center of the ring and demonstrate a skill, I would do a few tricks when our turn was coming up. She was super focused on work then. When we finished our 'task', I would offer a treat, do a trick, offer a treat. Sometimes she'd take it, sometimes not.

She also loves the agility tunnel (like loves it!) so sometimes, that will be her reward. Toys don't do it for her. If she's in "work mode", she couldn't care less about her toys but I've seen other dogs in my classes who are obsessed with a toy. That is their reward.

I really think you just have to find out what Ginny values. Maybe it's not treats. Maybe it's a frisbee or a ball or a pat on the head. When you find that and she realizes she's getting her favorite thing if she focuses on you, the distractions won't seem so bad. This also comes with maturity and age.

Quick story- the neighbor has a dog that roams freely. He never goes far and the man that owns him is never far behind. Anyway, he and Aspen are great friends! I've seen him sit on my front steps almost like he's asking if she can come out to play- it's pretty cute. Anyway, one day, Aspen and I were outside doing long distance recalls. One hard thing for her is that when this dog runs by, she wants to RUN with him. She was in a sit/stay and I could hear him coming. I thought, "great, there goes my sit/stay". I kept my eye contact with her but didn't repeat the command to stay. He ran by, I saw her butt get up just a bit, she looked at him then me and sat back down! I was floored! I wish I had it on video. That was hard for her! I think she was about a year and a half or so. I ran to her, praised her big time and released her to go run with him. After a few instances similar to that, now when he runs by, she looks at me. If we're training, she needs to wait. If we're just hanging out, she can go run.

I also have a "Watch me" command for Aspen. If I see something coming that could be a distraction, I'll have her watch me (before she sees it) and maybe start working tricks or get her in a sit/stay or down/stay- depending on the distraction. How we handle different things is very situational for us and probably will be for you as well. I hope something in here was a little helpful :) it's a lot of trial and error, IMO.
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