Focus: everyone wants it! But do you know how to get it?
This course will help you develop basic focus and a great working relationship using a variety of games that both you and your canine partner will enjoy playing together. The games will fall into one of three categories: increasing enthusiasm to work, improving impulse control, and decreasing reactions to distractions. Then, we'll begin combining the games so that your dog is truly focused!
*We have added examples and ideas for applying these games to puppies as young as 8 weeks with a weekly "baby focus" section.
Next session starts: December 1, 2018Registration starts: November 22, 2018Registration ends: December 15, 2018
Registration will begin at 10:00 AM Pacific Time.
For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 10 students, Silver: 15 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Silver level for this class is offered as "Working Silver". In addition to asking GENERAL clarification questions about the class lecture materials, silver students will now have the opportunity to submit two short videos, one minute each, for critique and review. You may submit two questions. Each question MUST have a one minute video attached so the instructor can actually answer a question that they can see. The question must relate to a topic in the class and the video must be a demo of the question. Please see the discussion forum for a detailed explanation - feel free to sign up at bronze, read the explanation, and then come back here to upgrade to silver if that interests you, and if space is available.
If you are interested in a bronze level subscription, you can sign up at any time during the registration period.
Rapid fire CT
Turning on & off
Week 1: FUN: This is ALWAYS where we start. If your dog isn't having fun then moving forward is a waste of time. We want happy and eager training partners.
Two treats game
Come & go game
Week 2: BABY STEPS: Sometimes it's the tiniest little things that make a huge difference in your dog's attitude towards training. These silly little games pay off over and over in future work.
Peek a boo!
Hide & Seek
Week 3: MOVE IT: Action & movement are almost always more compelling to a dog than stillness. We'll integrate movement into our interactions in fun ways.
Stop & Go
Week 4: CONTROL YOURSELF: Self-control is a beautiful thing. It needs to be practiced in short, easy sessions for the best chance at success.
Slow treats (or toy)
Week 5: FUN + CONTROL: Putting these two things together and creating a balance leads to great enthusiasm and attitude in the ring. Too much of one or the other is an issue. We want to follow the Goldilocks rule and get it "just right".
Week 6: MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF MONKEYS!: Trainers are creatures of habit and that's both good and bad in dog training. Consistency is necessary to teach high quality skills and behaviors. But, if we leave out surprise and excitement then our dogs will just go through the motions without the level of engagement we want.
Mix it up!
There are no prerequisites to sign up at any level. Everyone is welcome! However, if you are familiar with the exercises in the Get Focused class it will be helpful.
If you want to purchase the lectures from Get Focused for self-study, please go to our Prerequisites Purchase Page.
Deb & Denise's new book Dog Sport Skills: Book 4: Focus & Engage! is now available through www.thedogathlete.com. It is not required, but will provide additional information related to this topic.
Energy Levels and Interactions
We often talk about the energy levels that both the trainer and the dog bring to their interactions together. If there is an obvious mismatch then there will be problems.
There are two extremes when we have issues related to energy levels:
The first is a dog who may be distracted, confused, or uncertain. This dog often responds by slowing down and disengaging from the trainer. He may sniff, scratch, avoid eye contact, and no longer respond to cues. This dog is bringing less and less energy to the trainer/dog interaction.
The second is the dog who becomes more active and possibly even frantic when uncertain or confused. This dog may display frustration by whining, jumping, and reacting quickly but without thoughtfulness. These dogs seems to push you to do more, faster. This type of dog is bringing increased energy to the trainer/dog interaction, but it is not very useful energy.
Both of these issues will lead to problems with your dog’s capacity for learning, playing, and training. Whenever you see a noticeable change in energy levels from your dog it’s helpful to consider the reasons why. Usually, these changes are related to feeling pressure from the trainer, lack of clarity in training, overwhelming distractions in the environment, or some combination of these. If you attempt to change your dog’s energy level without addressing the reason for this issue then you are highly unlikely to be successful.
Rating energy levels:
Think of the energy levels you and your dog bring to each interaction together on a scale of 1-10. A 1 means no energy and a 10 is the highest level possible. If there is too big of a difference between those levels then the interaction is not going to go well. We will rate the dog’s level of energy and then work on changing ours by one level in the direction we want the dog to move. If we stay at the same level as the dog then nothing changes. But if we try for too big of a change all at once we are lumping and there is too big of a mismatch for us to have anywhere to meet.
What is an ideal? Probably a 7. Lots of useful energy but below the level of being frantic. Each dog has a different baseline to start. Some dogs are just naturally less energetic and low key than others. And some are at the top of the scale most of the time. In these cases thinking about moving them slightly towards moderate is a good step in the right direction.
Of course, an ideal energy level depends on the setting and the activity. You’ll want more energy for agility than for stationary exercises. During ring performances your dog’s energy levels will often need to move up and down very quickly between exercises or activities.
Let’s use the example of the dog who seems to be checking out and shutting down. This dog’s energy level may be a 3. You have probably heard or been told that you need to raise your energy levels to keep your dog engaged. The phrase “be more interesting than dirt” comes to mind. Unfortunately, in attempting to apply this advice you may end up doing more harm than good. If you come barreling in like a clown on crack at a level 9 you will just manage to freak out your dog and push him even further down the scale because now you are acting very weird.
So instead of trying to be the best party on the planet it makes more sense to level up by one and go for a 4. Add just a touch more energy to the interaction to make it seem appealing, but not so much that your dog feels overwhelmed.
Many trainers take responsibility for bringing all the energy to the interaction. But this won’t lead to long-term success. If you have to provide the energy for both you and your dog then your dog has no part in this process. He will simply stop bringing anything to the table. You will find yourself working harder and harder and getting less and less in return. It’s a trap you want to avoid.
What about the dog who gets high and frantic very easily? I have a dog (Zen) who would like to live in the land of 9. He wants everything in life to happen faster and is always looking to make things happen if there’s a lull in activity. Common advice here is to be totally and completely calm and quiet; basically move down to a level 3. But that causes more problems that it fixes. To Zen, this means I’m basically ignoring his needs for more action and activity, so he will get even higher and more demanding because clearly, I’m not paying attention.
If I want to move Zen into a lower level so that he’s more likely to become thoughtful and precise then I have to meet him close to where he starts and move him down gradually. So if Zen’s a 9 I need to come in at 7 or 8 with my energy. I’m taking it down just a bit, not coming in as a polar opposite, which is a terrible mismatch.
Location, location, location:
It is likely that changes in location lead to fairly predictable changes in the energy level that your dog displays. This partially explains the commonly heard lament “but he does it perfectly at home!” Yes he does. At home his energy levels, distractibility, and emotions can be quite different than they are in other settings.
Training in a variety of locations is often recommended, and it is very good advice. But it’s important to keep a close eye on how those locations impact your dog’s energy level. If you see a dramatic change then it’s important to ask yourself if you are trying to train in an inappropriate setting for your dog at this time.
This is all easy to talk about in theory, but much harder to put into practical application.
How, exactly, do you raise and lower your energy levels?
Think about how you conduct and present yourself while interacting with your dog. Do you move quickly or slowly in general? Do you flow smoothly from one thing to the next or are there breaks, stops, and starts? Are your actual physical movements choppy and rapid or slow and smooth?
Are you jumping up and down, clapping, patting your leg? Is this something you really need to be doing? Are you a cheerleader? I can tell you that it will seem to work for a while, then it will become necessary, then it will stop working. Don’t fall for it!
What about your voice? Some (many) trainers are unconscious chatterboxes while they train. This is a problem in many ways, but it is particularly important if your voice conveys your stress or anxiety to your dog. When we become concerned our voices change; we usually talk more, faster, and at a higher pitch. Slowing that down, keeping your voice steady and low, and minimizes unnecessary language are all helpful here. Going from chattering to total silence is likely to be a problem because it’s a drastic change from the norm, but minimizing your verbal excess is not a bad idea at all.
Many trainers are particularly likely to overuse their voices as a verbal connection, especially when their dogs are off-leash and/or at a distance. Often there is lots of chatter and lots of repetition of cues.
Something else that I see trainers do often is unintentionally drive their dogs away from them (mentally if not physically as well) by too much intense focus and eye contact. When we get nervous and worry that our dogs won’t stay engaged we start to look into their faces longer and harder. Imagine if a friend did that to you without warning. It would feel creepy and intrusive. It certainly wouldn’t lead you to want even more contact with them at that moment.
Another thing to consider is personal physical space. When we worry that our dogs are not engaged we tend to move closer to them, or force them closer to us with a leash. Instead, allow your dog a break and some space to decompress and relax. Forced closeness does not equal focus. Forced closeness increases your dog’s desire to escape and/or avoid you.
One helpful bit of advice for you in a training situation is to first control your breathing. Take a few long full deep breaths. This will slow your nervous system and help you consciously check yourself. Our breaths tend to become short and shallow as we get nervous or anxious. This often leads to a flood of negative stress hormones being released and our emotional state takes a turn for the worse. Some dogs are VERY sensitive to your emotional changes, so now you and your dog are in a negative stress spiral together.
So how do you know when you’re doing it right?
Ask your dog!
Look at your dog’s responses. Is your dog checking out less and less often? Is your dog more relaxed and less frantic? As with all training our dogs are a direct reflection of our interactions with them. In this case we are looking not just at behaviors, but at indications of emotion and arousal. These are more subtle and easy to overlook if you don’t know what to watch for. This moves into the territory of being able to read your dog accurately. When you are good at this you can often tell something is “off” quite early in the process and make adjustments before major issues develop.
Videotape your training and watch the videos as an unbiased observer. It’s hard to remember what happened during a session, and we often “remember” incorrectly. Video doesn’t lie. Watch what you are doing right before your dog’s energy level changes. Look for patterns. Watch how your dog’s attitude and behavior changes in response to your attitude and behavior.
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE ...
I can't say enough about the FDSA training program and the instructors I had in my course. The Gold Level was so valuable for not only my pup but also myself. I have tried so many other classes and was beginning to get frustrated with where we were and our lack of cohesion. Within a six week period I feel positive that we are finally heading in the right direction with our training and are well on our way to becoming a happy team. Our relationship building alone was worth the money, but we got so much more! Barb S.
Focus Games is a fantastic course that has given me a lot more tools to help improve my dogs focus and confidence. I am really delighted with the progress that Judy & Deb have helped Lilly and I to achieve Melita R.
These classes are some of the most fun, positive, and helpful classes I have taken. This says a lot after over 20 years of classes in both obedience and agility. Glad I found this Academy! Anne T
These two courses (get focused and focus games) should be on any trainer's must do list. The amount of knowledge imparted is simply amazing Judi E
One of the things I really like about working at Gold is the instructors ability to customize feedback and class for the dog and handler. It's fantastic!
I can't remember exactly what convinced me to take this course. First I wasn't going to take any courses this session, then I thought okay I'll take this at bronze, then something someone said about the course popped me over to wanting very badly to take it at Gold. I'm SO glad I did. It's turned out to be the course that seems to have turned a light bulb on for us (both of us).
I first took the Get Focused course then followed on with the Focus Games with my young border collie. It has made a huge difference in his training and his focus is quite increadable. he is a work in progress and with using the tools from these courses Im hoping he will turn out to be a wonderful compitition dog and pet. Lyn C