Thursday, August 26, 2010

Proofing Against Distractions

Proofing against distractions is a very important, often neglected part of training.  Dog training, that is, though it applies equally to us humans, but this isn't a blog about humans.  Well, of course it is, really because trainers need to learn to focus, too . . . . . oh shit, where am I going with this.  I've gotten off point. 

Back to it, I remember once at a fun match in Kiln, MS, a couple of very experienced handlers (not mentioning any names) were tossing treats right onto the dirt floor at the end of the Dog Walk and A-Frame contacts to reward D for a correct stay. When Maxie did his practice runs, he would invariably stop and sniff there.  Must have been microscopic bits of treat residue left in the dirt. And the very next day, there was a trial there. That's not right! BUT, what are you going to do about it, go scrape up the top layer of dirt with your trowel just before you run?  NO, you have to prepare D to ignore EVERYTHING but you and running those obstacles.

Some D's are so tunnel focused, when they see a tunnel ahead they race to take it, even if it is off course and H is directing them somewhere else.  That's why they call a tunnel a "border collie accelerator".  Major distraction.

I've personally witnessed D's get frightened by a strange man standing around the ring.  At trials, observers sit right outside the ring, while D is performing, eating a sandwich or feeding treats to their D.  I've heard about D's getting spooked when someone opens an umbrella.  Lucky is distracted by sounds in the woods.

Observers in the stands call D's name.  "Go, Maxie!" may sound like cheering, but it distracts D.  This is a big no-no in Agility Etiquette, but people do it all the same.

And then when you get to the higher levels of competition, there are the PA systems!

You have to proof against ALL OF THESE THINGS, AND MORE.  But how?

You start with exposure to a wide variety of environments and circumstances, I suppose; then there's the "leave it" command; then focus exercises.  I've been to practice sessions where someone is stationed along the fence, opening, closing and twirling an umbrella, or banging a pot.  I've seen shiny plastic whirly toys stuck in the ground alongside obstacles, or strange men (unknown to D) standing alongside the dogwalk as D goes over it.  I've seen, on training videos, wind-up toys moving around as D takes the weaves.  It is also recommended to provide wings of different shapes and colors, and differently decorated bars, including streamers fluttering in the breeze under bars.

Lordie have mercy!  So many things to think about.  As I get more data, I'll add it to this page.

No comments: