Do you struggle to keep your dog engaged and attentive in training? Does your dog find other dogs, people, or even smells on the floor more interesting than you? Do you have a dog that is great when he’s “on” but you totally lose him when he’s “off”? Does your dog work well in the living room but have issues in other settings? Are you struggling to find the key to keeping your dog’s interest and attention? Do you feel like your dog isn’t giving you 100% in training? Does your dog get too high & excited or too slow & careful?
You and your dog need focus! Focus is an often overlooked, but vitally important, aspect of your working relationship with your dog. The goal of focus training is to develop and encourage your dog’s interest, concentration, enthusiasm, and commitment to working with you. This will result in increased focus on you and on the tasks and activities that you and your dog do together.
This class is ideally taken early in your dog’s career. We consider focus work an important foundation for future training. However, focus work at any age will be a benefit. Instilling focus as a habit will make teaching everything else much, much easier. Focus is necessary for success in all dog sports and activities.
In this class you will learn about the concept of focus, and what you can do to encourage it, increase it, and maintain it.
Here's a trailer for the class:
Next session starts: April 1, 2019Registration starts: March 22, 2019Registration ends: April 15, 2019
Registration will begin at 9:30 AM Pacific Time.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 12 students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Gold Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to post questions and videos to the course forums. Students will receive instructor feedback on written and video assignments.
Silver Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to participate in the discussion forum. Students may ask GENERAL questions about course materials and may submit two, one-minute videos for instructor feedback. Any questions specific to your dog MUST be accompanied by a video.
Bronze Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to read all questions and answers posted in the class forums. Students will not post questions or submit written or video assignments.
For more details, refund policies, and answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Get Focused! Class Syllabus
Lecture 1: What’s the Problem?
Why is your dog unfocused?
1. Lack of enthusiasm
2. Lack of control
3. Lack of confidence
4. Lack of clarity
*Assignment 1: What’s the Problem?
Lecture 2: What is Focus?
What is focus? How is it different from attention?
Offered, never compelled
Never ask for focus. Set up your training sessions so it happens naturally and you can capture it.
Acclimation vs. focus
*Assignment 2: Acclimation
*Exercise 1: Rapid-Fire CT
*Exercise 2: Captured Focus
*Exercise 3: Offered Focus
Lecture 3: Manipulating States
States of arousal
Turning your dog “on” and “off”
Working vs. chilling
*Assignment 3: What’s Your State?
*Exercise 4: Turning On & Off
Lecture 4: Reinforcement & Focus
Motivation: why should your dog focus on you? What do you have to offer?
Make your dog addicted to you!
Skillful use of reinforcers
More cookies does NOT equate to better focus!
*Assignment 4: Reinforcement hierarchy & choices
Lecture 5: Arousal Levels & Focus
Stressing up & down
*Assignment 5: Know Your Dog!
Lecture 6A&B: When Things Go Wrong
What do you do when your dog is not focused? Stop training!
*Exercise 5: Working with Focus
*Exercise 6: Adding More Work to Focus
*Exercise 6+ Focused Chain
*Exercise 7: Building Duration
*Exercise 8: Developing Moving Focus
*Exercise 9: Quick Change
Lecture 7: What’s Your Responsibility?
Are your expectations appropriate and realistic?
Excuses and explanations
*Assignment 6: No More Excuses!
Lecture 8: Remote Reinforcers
Keeping focus while reducing dependence on reinforcers
*Exercise 10: Adding Distractions
*Exercise 11: Remote Reinforcement
**Optional: In Focus: Developing a Working Relationship with Your Performance Dog by Deb Jones & Judy Keller. Even though this book was written with agility in mind, the ideas and principles apply well to ALL dog sports and training.
Also, the newest book in the Dog Sports Skills series Book 4: Focus & Engage! goes into great detail about the exercises presented in this class as well as the general concept of voluntary focus. This is a very good resource to accompany this class.
Lecture 5A: When Things Go Wrong
So what should you do when you are trying to train and you cannot get your dog to focus? This is one of those cases where the answer is simple, but not easy. STOP TRAINING! Let me say it again, STOP TRAINING! One more time, STOP TRAINING! Don’t continue trying to work with an unfocused dog. If you truly want a dog who focuses on you in all working situations then you MUST follow this advice.
Let’s say that you buy into this premise. Training an unfocused dog leads to sloppy behaviors. If your dog is only partially paying attention to you he cannot possibly be getting the most out of a training session. Don’t be a sloppy trainer. Work on focus first, then incorporate your training. Most people do it backwards. They teach behaviors first, then try to add focus later. That might be exactly what you’re doing right now! That’s OK, we can turn things around. But you need to be committed to the rule of only training a focused dog from now on. And with your next dog, focus first!
At the first sign of a loss of focus you need to end your training session and analyze what went wrong. If your dog loses focus in the middle of working with you and disengages it’s like someone walking away while you’re in the middle of a conversation. It is a clear sign that something is very wrong. Using the conversation analogy, maybe you were long-winded and boring. Maybe you did all the talking and didn’t listen. Maybe you were talking nonsense or were confusing. Maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe your conversational partner was sick, or nervous, or distracted, or in a hurry to do something else. In any case, you clearly were not engaged in a mutually enjoyable interaction. So you need to think about why that disengagement happened. Do you need to work on your conversational skills? Do you need to address your partner’s issues? Were you trying to have your conversation in a loud and chaotic setting? Were there distractions and interruptions to your conversation? Were YOU totally focused and actively engaged?
Being able to maintain focus, even with mild stressors and distractions present, is a skill that needs to be developed. Start with short, fun, easy conversations. Work up to longer and more intense ones over time. If you can see that your conversational partner is starting to fade away or lose interest it’s time to take a break.
A few issues regularly come up about this time in class. So we’ll address them here.
Errors vs. Disengagement
An error occurs when your dog makes a mistake in a behavior that is not clearly due to lack of focus. Errors happen due to confusion, uncertainty, or lack of clarity. If your dog makes an error in one of the behaviors in Exercises 5 and 6 just use your verbal release, do a treat toss to reset, and start again once your dog focuses back on you. If you try the same behavior and you get another error then that behavior needs to be removed from your focus training and addressed separately.
If your dog does not respond due to disengagement based on distraction then end the session. In a neutral manner give your verbal release and put your dog away or on a down for at least two minutes.
In order to be prepared to end a session if it becomes necessary, you should always have a leash handy. You will need the leash once you release your dog to give him a 2 minute time out. If your dog has an excellent down you can use that if necessary, but we’d much prefer clipping on a leash, walking your dog to a crate or other confinement area, and putting him away.
Five Second Rule
We are now declaring the 5 second rule for focus. Our dogs have a 5 second grace period for distraction. If they choose to refocus on their own in that time frame we continue the exercise. If they do not voluntarily refocus then we treat it as disengagement and end the session.
In addition to the 5 second rule we will also follow the 2 glances rule. If your dog momentarily glances away once, but immediately refocuses and continues working we will continue. But if he glances away a second time then you need to end the session.
We are now adding what we call a “limited hold” to our training. There is a time limit in which your dog must respond (with focus) in order to earn reinforcers. Start with 5 seconds but work on decreasing it to 2. If he doesn’t respond in that time frame then he loses his opportunity (for at least 2 minutes) to work with us. Without the limited hold there would be no reason for him to hurry.
If you drop treats in the process of training (we all do!) we need to have a plan for how to manage that. If you are quick you can pretend you meant to do that, give your release and “get it!” cue, as if it was a tossed treat to reset. However, the 5 second rule is still in play here. If your dog searches for more than 5 seconds then he is disengaged and you need to end the session.
If your dog is dedicated to getting a treat that he can’t find, once you put him away find that treat and dispose of it. Don’t leave it out there as an added distraction. It would also be best to move to a different area/location for your next few sessions.
EXERCISE 5: FOCUS PLUS BEHAVIOR
Once you have practiced exercises 1-4 and you and your dog are both comfortable with them, it's time to move on to Exercise 5. In this exercise you will be adding a behavior that your dog knows well to your focus work. Prepare for this exercise with 5-10 cookies.
First, wait for your dog to offer you focus. Then when he does, ask for a simple and well-known behavior. Once the behavior is performed mark & treat. Use a verbal release and treat toss away to tell your dog he's done with that repetition. And then wait for focus again. You can ask for a variety of different behaviors (but only one at a time for any repetition) as long as they are things your dog can easily perform without error.
The purpose of this exercise is to teach our dogs that offering focus leads to an opportunity to work with us, which leads to reinforcement. It is vitally important that your dog initiates focus, not you.
Doing anything to get your dog's attention totally negates the value of this exercise.
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE ...
I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical about the idea of an online dog training course and wondered how beneficial it could really be -- I'm thrilled to say that I was pleasantly wrong and we had a fantastic experience. Even at the bronze level, getting specific guided lessons paired with the opportunity to follow the comments and advice given to others turned out to be much more comprehensive and thorough than I imagined. An unexpected bonus was the change in my fearful/reactive dog's attitude toward training; the stressors that she normally associates with taking classes (barking dogs, a lot of strange people moving around, weird sounds) aren't present, so she was given a chance to build enthusiasm for something that she'd previously had mixed feelings about. In turn, forming a habit of focusing assisted us with our "Show me!" trigger exercise and drastically improved her ability to disengage from things that worry her by focusing on me. I'm definitely going to be signing up for more classes! J. Harris
I felt like we can't get past foundations. So I stepped further back into foundations and took this class! I have really enjoyed working through all the exercises with my dog Lily and we've had some phenomenal results that I plan to keep building on! My other dog is in the throes of a peak in her anxiety issues, so we did not do anything but RFT. I have to say that even just that little bit has done some really nice things and meshes really fantastically with her b-mod/confidence work that we do every day. I would definitely recommend this class to anyone who feels frustrated or unsure about a focus issue!
I realized that the GET FOCUSED course was working when we recently stepped out of our front gate just as a few guinea fowl came wandering down the street. Normally that would have resulted in a partially dislocated shoulder for me. Hah! Not this time. We calmly did some Rapid Fire Treats and could even step into the road as the last bird squawked past. WOW!! Awesome instructors, great course content. I really liked the logical way in which the course unfolded and one lesson built on another. I also like the fact that I could largely work at my own pace, going back to earlier lectures and assignments as often as needed. Decisions, decisions: Which course to do next? - KarinP
This was my first, won't be my last. Not only does one get the benefit of well developed successful course material, but the instructors knowledge about canine behavior and psychology has helped me to build a stronger bond with my pups. The improvement in our relationship during this first course has already been huge. Thank You FDSA! Barb S
Thank you Deb and Judy for such a great class! It has helped my young dog Sami TREMENDOUSLY!!! Sami is a very social girl, I now have learned skills that I will be using daily. :) Thanks again FDSA for having such great classes and AWESOME instructors!!! FDSA is making a positive impact on not only dogs but people too! :) ~Chris J
The overall feel of caring and support in this class was amazing. Even as a bronze it penetrated our work at home and the lurker group postings. Just a very great learning environment, thank you Deb & Judy!
I found Deb and Judy to be excellent instructors and the Get Focused class was an great experience. It was my first Gold level class and I was quite anxious about posting videos. Their feedback was clear, specific and very encouraging. It is exciting to see the progress we made in just a few weeks! My dog is much more dialed in to me and now has a much better understanding of what she has to do to make it all happen. Being able to see the progress made my my classmates was really exciting. I learned with them while watching and reading their feedback. Thanks so much! Elaine A.
We have been busy this year filling in all our foundation holes. I knew the course would be good but I never expected it to make such a profound difference in our training. The exercises appear simple but they are really powerful. I found my dog looking for me more and generally more focused on me. This is amazing with such an independent breed. I would recommend everyone take this course whatever the age of your dog! Mary Ellen S.
The focus class was amazing and exactly what I needed! Thank you Deb and Judy for providing me with so many great tools. I now feel like I have a better path forward to successful and fun training and eventual showing with my boy who has been more interested in the world than me. Sue N.