We had a viewer with a question about how to get their dog motivated and focused on training. We give our tips as well as those of another viewer.
Q. When ever I take my dog outside to do agility she will always lie down or get a bone and get distracted by a bird or noises outside our house. I tried putting any distractions away but of course I can’t take away the public noises, it works for a few jumps but then she doesn’t want to do anymore and lies down. She gets snappy and dis-obedient when I put her on the lead so what do I do if she doesn’t want to do it? I have tried to motivate her by getting her favorite toys and bones but when I then go inside she will always follow me.
A. Hmm. There are a few things we suggest trying with your dog!
First and foremost, we highly encourage anyone with a dog displaying avoidance to any obstacle to have the checked by the veterinarian. One of our dogs here loved agility and was doing super until the jumps got moved to regulation height. He then started refusing and showing avoidance to them. It was discovered he had hip dysplasia and was in pain when he jumped.
Second, you can try a long walk – it may be that she is just wanting to get outside and do something brainless for a bit, to get the tickle out of her feet. Don’t tire her out though! After your walk, try to do agility.
Third, evaluate the rewarding system. How often are you rewarding your dog? What do you use to reward them? Find something of insanely high value (liver treats work great with my dog!), use tiny pieces, with massive regularity. If your dog is play motivated, be sure you only use those fantastic toys during training, then put them away. Always end your training with your dog ready to do more. If you tire her out she loses drive for her toy. Your dog just might not be ready to do a full course without rewards, and that’s okay. Build up to it gradually, and develop value for agility.
Fourth, see if you’re taking yourself too seriously. I know that sometimes we can get so focused on the behavior we want that we forget to have fun, and then our dogs don’t have much fun, either. Get lost in the moment with your dog, just be there and have fun. Forget perfection and look for improvements.
Definitely look at your reward! Right now, it sounds like the environment is way more exciting than you are. Are you using something awesome like chicken or liver or lunch meat? My dog goes crazy for string cheese.
Second, go back to kindergarten. If your dog can do 5 obstacles in a row without rewards in class or in your living room, you should only expect 1 in your yard. Ask her to do a jump, and then JACKPOT her with lots of yummy treats to show her that it was worth her while to pay attention to you. I wouldn’t ask for more than one obstacle at a time for quite a while–there’s really no such thing as moving too slowly in agility, but there absolutely is such a thing as too fast! When she is searching out and diving for that jump or tunnel without you sending her to it, then try for two in a row (sometimes still rewarding after one!)
For some dogs, they just lose focus entirely in new environments. In that case, I’d pay big time for handler focus. Treat for looking at you instead of the birds. Cookies for staying at your side as you walk past another dog. Build up slowly. Can you do a jump on your patio? A tunnel in your basement? Try as many simple new environments as you can, even if it’s just a different room in your house.
The three D’s of training are distance, duration, and distractions. You don’t want to increase more than 1 at a time