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.

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?

When it comes to working with reactive behavior, one of our biggest allies is management. We want to prevent your dog from practicing reactive behavior as much as we can – to prevent them from getting better and better at reaching for those responses any time they feel afraid, stressed, over-excited, or anxious about a trigger; it’s stressful for your dog and it can be embarrassing, frustrating, or concerning to you. When we can prevent this “bad” habit from happening, we’re opening up more opportunities to teach new, “good” habits in response to your dog’s triggers.

Management, or prevention, can come in many different forms:

  • Take your morning and/or evening walks at different times to avoid the other “regulars,” who might usually be walking at those times.

  • Walk your dog on different routes that are not as frequented by your dog’s triggers or provide a change of scenery altogether.

    • Drive your dog to a nearby, large park that has lots of space to maintain your dog’s threshold.

    • Drive to and walk around, play, or train in a large, nearby parking lot.

    • Walk to or drive to a nearby business park or industrial park.

    • I like schools and churches because they have very specific hours of operation and are nearly secluded outside of those hours! Schools often also have playgrounds or open field areas that you can take your dog to for walking in, exploring equipment, stretching your legs, and playing with a ball or toy.

    • As odd as it may sound, too, consider taking your walk around or through a cemetery; these are usually large, open areas and are rarely frequented by other people and dogs!

    • If it will be too difficult to find times and routes that don’t have you and your dog running into others on walks, skip the walks altogether!

      • There are plenty of ways to get exercise (physical and mental exercise) indoors; and it’s not a forever thing! See below for some mental enrichment ideas to help with this!

      • Our goal is to eventually get out in public on walks again, but, while managing your dog’s reactivity, it’s critically important that you learn how to avoid triggers to avoid performing reactive behavior.

  • Always bring treats with you on walks – the stinkier, the better! At the very least, you may be able to use the treats to get your dog’s attention, keep their attention, or distract them away from another dog (if you’re at a distance that the treats still work at).

  • If living in an apartment or condominium complex and you’re looking to avoid walks (and the triggers a walk in your area may present)…

    • You may use a common area, such as a tucked-away laundry room or service area, for some running around time or physical exercise.

    • Utilize hallways or lobby areas if you’re unlikely to run into a trigger.

    • I had a client who rented the party room in her apartment complex once a week to stretch their legs in without the chance of running into another dog.

    • Additionally, if elevators present too many surprise interactions with a trigger, consider taking the stairs for part or all of your trips down and up – for potty breaks or walks.

  • Avoid dog parks.

    • Even if your dog does not have issues with other dogs while off leash, there could be on-leash interactions and opportunities to react to other dogs and people and other triggers while arriving or departing.

    • If you’d like some safe, off-leash exercise and training practice, check out www.sniffspot.com; it’s a site that allows you to find private dog parks that you can rent for a small fee!

    • Another option is the My Dog and Me Private Dog Park – a private dog park you can reserve and rent for exercise and uninterrupted play!

    • A third private dog park option is the HAWS Schallock Center for Animals (5 acres to stretch your legs in)!

    • Is it too hot out? Too cold? Rainy? Snowy? Icy? Etc.? You still have options!

      • Rent an indoor gym for your dog! The Canine Enrichment Center is a gym with all kinds of equipment you can rent for indoor exercise and enrichment with your dog!

      • Central Bark Wauwatosa offers indoor play space rental on Fridays for your dog to run around or for a playdate of up to five dogs!

      • Take your dog for a therapeutic swim at Aqua Therapups!

  • Manage your dog’s access to windows with a view of the outside – particularly views that are regularly trafficked by your dog’s triggers. Many times, barking out the window at triggers increases frustration or upset and reinforces the behavior: “Every time I bark, the thing goes away.”

    • Cover the window with drapes and/or blinds.

    • Move furniture, so your dog can’t climb on it to bark out the windows.

    • Place or tape cardboard, construction paper, or computer paper over the windows to prevent visual access.

    • Apply window film (with a frost design or opaque design) over the section of the window that your dog’s height allows them to see out.

  • In addition to the house windows, manage your dog’s access to car windows (especially if they do usually bark out the windows at triggers).

    • Utilize a crate/kennel or seat belt containment option in your car to limit the chances your dog will be able to see out the windows (and, therefore, react to triggers).

    • Use more of the window film on the car windows your dog can see out.

    • Apply window shades (that suction or stick to the window) to block your dog’s view of the outside when they’re in the car.

Think of management as the down time after you sprain your ankle or injure your foot: you won’t be running marathons – you may not even be able to walk with that leg or foot or without crutches! For some time after the injury, you’re taking it easy, resting, and giving the injury time to heal. After resting, you slowly get back to regular activity; you may start with physical therapy that involves simple exercises to get your leg and/or foot back into activity slowly – without reinjury or without overdoing it! Think of this class as your dog's physical therapy!

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.

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!

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!

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.