Focus & Control
week 1 homework

Policies

  • COVID policies that make class possible are listed here.

  • No interactions between dogs in class or interacting with a dog that is not yours (unless it is part of the class curriculum to do so)

  • ​Do not arrive more than 10 mins early for class each week.

  • Please close all gates and doors behind you.

Orientation​​

This is a behavioral class – it's not like a traditional manners or obedience class - that is based on and includes a lot of strategies from the Control Unleashed program created by Leslie McDevitt. Our goals in this class are to create calm, build focus and impulse control, and provide you with survival skills/strategies for the real world!

What to Expect in Class

  • Visual barriers: these limit visual distractions, minimize stress, and can be removed or placed differently as the class progresses (this is a goal, but is not a requirement - it depends on the dogs!)

  • A "No judgment zone"

    • This class exists for lots of reasons: adolescence, lack of prior training, lack of exercise – or overtiredness, anxiety / fear / stress, genetics - to name just a few!

    • Do not be embarrassed if your dog barks (at me or other dogs, etc.) or has a hard time settling!

    • Let's avoid labels - words like stupid, stubborn, dramatic, or bad, etc. They just don't help us accomplish anything for your dog's future.

 

How do we make changes!?

The short answer? Science!

 

The long answer? Counter conditioning (CC)! CC uses a mix of classical conditioning, which is all about associations, and operant conditioning, which looks at reinforcing (increasing) or punishing (decreasing) behaviors. This class uses positive reinforcement – we offer rewards for the things we like, so the dog chooses to do those things more!​

 

What can you start doing “out in the wild” right now?

  • Management

    • Management prevents your dog from practicing the unwanted behavior (that has you in this class) over and over and, therefore, getting really good at it!

    • On top of that, management is used to reduce your dog's daily stress and experience of adrenaline and cortisol - give your dog a cortisol vacation!

    • Over the next six weeks, work on reducing stress and keeping your dog UNDER threshold as much as possible. Identify your dog's triggers and work on changing their routine or environments to avoid those triggers.

    • This is not a long-term solution because it doesn’t teach your dog how to appropriately respond to triggers; that's what we'll be working on in class!

  • Ok, so management. Got it! But, what are we looking to avoid?

    • Reactive behavior!

    • We’re familiar with the barking and lunging and pulling – the explosive stuff, but what about the more subtle things? These are often called calming or stress signals:

      • Sniffing, scratching, or grooming

      • Yawning, lip licking, looking away, turning away

      • Panting, shaking off, trembling/shaking

      • Whale eye, hackling

      • Staring and fixation (sustained watching for more than 5 seconds)

    • Management means we're looking for even subtle signs and preventing our dog from escalating to the more obvious signs of reactivity!​​

Homework Items

The homework will, ideally, keep you on track, working on each of the new exercises introduced in class - the more you practice, the better both you and your dog will get! Keep sessions short and sweet (just 3-5 minutes or for the duration of a handful of treats or food) and a few times a day. Try not to let yourself or your dog get bored with the exercises (that just makes it no fun)!​ Don't be afraid, either, to leverage your dog's meal – skip the bowl and practice mat work or rewarding other things you like to see throughout the day, etc.

Summary:

  1. Experiment with treats

  2. Begin using the clicker!

  3. Start building engagement (three exercises)

1) Experiment with treats

  • Bring the best of the best next week!

  • The stinkier the treats are, the better (usually).

  • Bring multiple options, so you don't find yourself with a dog that doesn't like what you have!​​

2) Begin using the clicker!

Clicker Training falls under the umbrella of what is called Marker Training and the clicker itself is a tool we can use to mark behaviors; it helps us precisely tell our dog what behavior they did correctly; the click is a sound that can be used to tell your dog, "THAT! That right there is what we were looking for; THAT is what gets the reward; and THAT is what you should do again!"


Using a clicker, we teach your dog that a click means a reward. Quickly, your dog learns that they can earn the click (and associated reward) by doing certain behaviors – and they're going to choose to do those behaviors more often because of that reward!
 

When using a clicker in training, I ask that my clients focus on the number one – for a few reasons:

  1. Every time you click, give a treat. It’s a one-for-one each time – even if we click on accident, we give a treat. When we click, we’re telling our dog, “I’m going to pay you.” So, to avoid frustration, avoid our dogs giving up on us, and avoid our dogs deciding it’s not fun working with us (or for us), we consistently offer payment after we tell them we’ll get paid.

  2. When you’re working on a behavior, focus on one thing – the one thing you’re looking for and that you’re going to click for. When working on the Sit, you’re watching for the butt to touch the floor; that’s the only thing you’re watching for and the only thing you’ll click for. It helps you to zero in on the objective and filter out all the other noise (behaviors your dog might be offering instead of just the one behavior you’re working on).

 

Charging the Clicker
Before we begin using the clicker as a tool for our training, we need to charge the clicker - or teach your dog that a click means a treat is coming and they get the click (and subsequent treat) for particular behaviors!

  • Click and deliver a treat (your dog does not need to be doing anything in particular during this exercise).

  • Repeat 10-12 times or until you see signs that your dog is starting to pay attention to the click - the ears flick, the head turns, they turn their whole body toward you, etc.

When we start seeing these signs, we're ready to start using the clicker as a training tool with our dogs.

After charging the clicker once, it's not likely you'll need to charge it again - your dog is making that connection between the click and treats and won't be forgetting that easily! If you did not have a clicker in class, practice this quick exercise with the clicker after you get it from the store or you get it in the mail and you're ready to start using the clicker for one of the most basic - but one of the best - behaviors your dog will work on: eye contact!

3) Start building engagement with your dog! (Three ways):

Rewarding Unprompted Eye Contact

Rewarding your dog for offering you eye contact or checking in with you is one of the best things you can do with your dog! As we talked about, eye contact = attention. And when we have your dog's attention, we can do so much with our dogs! On top of that, we're teaching your dog or puppy that you are one of the most valuable things in their environment no matter where you are!

  • When your dog looks at you, click and give your dog a treat.

  • Rinse and repeat!

 

Practice rewarding this eye contact in a variety of situations and at a variety of times, so we can teach your dog that you are worth paying attention to and valuable even when you have competition. This simple, but effective, exercise is one that I highly recommend for the outdoors, so your dog gets used to and interested in paying attention to you in distracting environments!

Reward the Good

Along with unprompted eye contact (or simply looking at you), start to look for and reward the "good" things you like to see; whether you're in the home, the yard, on a walk, the park, etc., start noticing the choices your dog is making that you'd like to see more of - and offer tasty treats for them!

Name Game
Teaching your dog their name is important for the obvious reason: we want to be able to get their attention quickly and easily. The Name Game is a fun way to teach them that a particular word (your dog hears it as just a noise) means we want them to focus on us!

  • Say your dog’s name (only 1 time).

  • When your dog looks at you, click and treat.

  • If your dog doesn’t look at you within a couple or few seconds, make a small noise to grab their attention (kissy noises, whistle, high-pitched non-words, etc. that is not repeating your dog's name) and click/treat when they look at you.

 

Practice this in a variety of locations around the house (and maybe start practicing it in the yard), at a variety of times, so your dog knows you may ask for their attention at any time and anywhere AND they’ll get paid for it!

Next Week

 

Below is a list of the things you should bring to class next week!

  • Your dog!

  • Water and water bowl (water for yourself, as well)

  • TREATS - more than you think you'll need

  • A way to hold your treats - a treat pouch, fanny pack, apron, etc.

  • A mat/bed/blanket/towel/cooling mat (something portable)

  • Stuffed Kong (or two), puzzle toy, Snuffle mat

  • 6 ft leash and collar or harness (no retractable leashes, prong collars, choke collars, or shock collars)

  • Chair for you to sit in

 

Each week of class...

  • Please wait in your car until I come to get you

  • After I escort you to your space in class, set up your station (by orange cone)

    • Set up mat/bed/blanket and water

    • Begin working with your dog on relaxation – mat work, massage, rewarding anything calm, quiet, and remotely relaxed

  • At the end of class, we'll have each of you leave one at a time as you arrived to avoid leash greetings, getting overexcited, and minimize arousal.