Unfocused


Gwynn and I have been working through some issues recently.  Despite being 4 (!), he’s apparently decided to try out that doggy-teen-angst thing that usually strikes sometime between turning 2 and 3.  He’s a late bloomer, I guess.

He’s started barking at people, and attempting to run towards them (fun! not.) on our walks, and is developing dog-park-bully tendencies (ditto).

I know pretty much everyone says you never just reach a point with your dog where you can stop training, but I kind of assumed that I’d be able to keep adding tricks, agility moves and general improvement on his recall and sit-stays and call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting new things.  Behavioural things.

New things like suddenly, other dogs are really really interesting – in a hard-eyes and rigid posture, jumps over the barrier separating us (mid-agility run) from another dog (ditto, but also with fear-of-dog-issues, of course) like it wasn’t a foot and a half taller than the jump height we’re working on, spend 10 minutes yipping hysterically until I just get the fuck out 20 minutes into class kind of way.

Awesome.

What does all this mean?  Well, apparently the bullying might be a mixture of the herding and poodling (poodles were originally hunting dogs, so I’m not quite sure what instinct it is here, other than… being bouncy) instincts kicking into high gear from his ancestry – lots of darting in and back, barking and general over-excited-not-listening-to-other-dog’s-discomfort-cues.

And his complete loss of interest in running the agility course with me when he could instead go cry and run the fenceline?  Lack of focus combined with the whole over-excited-at-dogs thing.  His groovy ‘do means that his eyes are a thing I don’t necessarily see when training focus-work, and apparently this is an issue, because it means that I’m rewarding the wrong thing.  He’s, more often than not, getting rewarded for face-pointing in my general direction, but actually looking at the treat in my hand/pocket/whatever it is I’m trying to get him to stop looking at.  Instead of actual eye-contact.  Yup, 100% luring, not actual training.  Mea culpa.

Yes, also I high-pitch my voice to try and make him more interested in me… but when that fails… well…

My agility instructor has recommended that I cut all the hair around his eyes, but he’s already got a bit of a mullet thing going on from the trimming I already do, and I love his hair, so I’m going to try out a few alternatives for the interim (until it’s warm enough out that I can get him fully groomed).  What are your thoughts on his style?

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She also said she thought we’d be fine continuing with agility and just adding a dog obedience class (one that focuses on, well, focus, and working on newly developed issues), but frankly, I don’t give a flying… rice-cake… about whether Gwynn and I succeed at doing 6/8/10/etc weave poles, I just want my friendly/happy/not crazy dog back.

All this over-excitement directed at people (barking/lunging), and dogs (bullying, and hard eyes/stiff posture), to my mind, means that Gwynn is not feeling safe, he’s not sure how to act in a given situation, and, for these reasons, not happy.  

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

On a deeper level, I mean.

He’s also on a bad track towards possibly developing aggression issues (if you don’t already call his occasional barking and bullying a form of aggression), and, well NO.  If you’ve got experience in this type of thing, feel free to link me to useful stuff on the web or leave your best tips.  I’ve already been trolling back through old posts at SUCCESS JUST CLICKS and other dog trainer blogs, but repeated information isn’t bad information.

So I’m going all Mr Miyagi on his poor confused self, and we are going to get focused, and get happy.

Wax on, Wax off.  Click, Treat.

6 Comments

  1. Personally, I like the Robin Sparkles look on him!

    I say be consistent. If he’s just going through one of the later developmental phases, it’ll expire soon enough, and if you’re consistent with your rules throughout, it’ll be easier to get back on track – and you won’t develop lasting habits/behaviours – after he’s worked his way out. Moses’ last one was around 3, and they manifested themselves slightly differently each time, but that’s how we coped.

    PS. Thank you for getting ‘Happy’ stuck in my head… so darn catchy!

    • I’ve definitely been trying to get back into the consistency with rules thing – I had been letting things slide, unfortunately. So we’re back on the ‘oh, you want to go outside? well, sit. you want to come back in? sit’ train. I think it’s making a big difference just reinforcing rules – and rewarding them – again.
      To the horror of my entire family, I’ve been using the Robin Sparkles look on our walks and during in-our-house training. Being able to see his eyes makes it much easier to judge just what he’s looking at, and he isn’t at all bothered by his new headgear. The family has decided that I’m dressing him up like a tiny fluffy girly dog, but whatever works, right!

  2. Arousal levels are a big part of a lack of focus. Going to the dog park = high energy, social times; it’s not uncommon after several visits that the dog just anticipates himself into a high arousal state which translates into a complete lack of focus. Agility is the same way. You may want to check out Denise Fenzi’s post on Frantic behavior.

    Another great resource is Deb Jones’ IN F.O.C.U.S book and/or DVD. Lots of little exercises you can work to train focus back into him. And BAT (Grisha Stewart) or LAT (Leslie McDevitt) exercises are extremely helpful with focus work. I also really love the check-in ideas supported by Donna Hill’s recall series on her youtube channel.

    • That’s fantastic – so many resources, thanks! I’ll be checking them all out and seeing how I can work on their techniques with Gwynn. It’s definitely an arousal level thing with gwynn – he’s getting too excited over dogs, and that’s leading to issues with him doing things he wouldn’t have done before and being unable to pay attention to me.

      Thanks so much :)

  3. I would say that he is now mature and many times that is when these types of aggression issues pop up. Search Nothing In Life Is Free. This training method can help with problem dogs of any age. Also, you may want to have a health check and blood work checked to make sure there is not a medical issue causing him to be aggressive with other dogs.

    As for agility and lack of focus….lol…sometimes they never grow up. Ask Storm who is finally settling down at 6 1/2. You just have to train through that and the focus class should help.

    • Thanks – I’ll look up the Nothing in Life is Free method for sure. it sounds a bit like other advice i’ve gotten regarding putting boundaries/rules in place to give Gwynn a guideline of good behaviour.

      We’ll be in to the vet soon for a checkup, and I’ll make sure to bring up the issues he’s been going through. I’ll feel pretty awful if it turns out to be some illness that’s making him act crazy. He isn’t showing any (other) signs of problems, though, so fingers crossed that it’s just a part of his maturation. I wouldn’t mind him not growing up, :P just as long as he gets back to being able to handle the excitement of other dogs (or that one pile of snow this morning, or cats, or mysterious objects…) being in existence in our neighbourhood without becoming a bit bent.

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