NOVEL STIMULI/DISTRACTIONS by Emma Parsons
This session was about turning the odd, weird, distracting and sudden into a cue to look at the handler. Dog sees something it thinks is weird? It looks at the handler. Dog hears something distracting? It looks at the handler. Dog fight outside the ring? Look at your handler. Chair falls? Look at your handler. How handy is this skill?! It is not taught as an “ignore that or else” proposition. The dog is free to look at and focus on those things, but with training, it learns that life is full of weird stuff, but it’s not going to hurt me, so I can just ignore it and focus on my handler. Dogs learn to ignore other dogs and people, gun shots in some sports, music of all sorts, crowds, loud speakers, Judges, etc. because we teach them how to do that. This is simply adding the generalization of “anything weird or sudden” to that long list of distractions that dogs learn to ignore when they go for a walk or step into a competition venue.
- With practice, anything novel/weird can become a cue to look at the handler/ignore the distraction
- Acclimation to the CONCEPT of novel things (including sounds) helps the dog prepare for weird things that happen in everyday life. Reduces reactivity to sudden environmental change.
- Dogs are NEVER allowed to interact with the novel item (no sniffing, touching, playing, etc.) because they won’t always be able to interact with things in real life. They need to learn that novel things are no big deal even if they can’t be investigated (and that they don’t all need to be investigated to be determined to be safe).
- Watch for sensitivities in dogs (could be to noise or movement or size/shape of something, etc.) How the dog feels about the item is top priority. Dog should start and progress at a distance where they are able to look away from the object and not be anxious about it or overly drawn to it. Be extra careful with known “triggers” and start farther away or quieter than you think you need to be.
- The human should not be afraid of the item (fake snake/spider)
- Use things with odd shapes, sounds, movement, scents
- 1- Fixed threshold
- Start at a distance where the dog has interest in the item, but doesn’t get “fixated” on it and doesn’t try to move away on his own due to anxiety about it.
- You stand still and click dog for looking at the item and feed when dog turns back to you. If the dog doesn’t look toward you when you click, you’re too close.
- Repeat several times rapidly (look, click, turns away, feed), then wait a brief pause to see if the dog will look away from the item on his own. Click/reward the dog’s choice to look toward you. (look at item, look at you, click, feed)
- When dog is ignoring the item and staring at you, move to the next step:
- 2- Dance with threshold
- Take a step or two toward the item (just enough to get dog to look at it)
- Click while dog is looking at the item
- Move AWAY from the item as you feed the dog in front of you
- Repeat till you can get close to the item without dog interacting with it
- Can use a new item or same item for next step
- 3- Add a moving task
- Moving around/near novel items is easier than having to maintain a stationary position (stay)
- So have the dog do some moving behavior (heeling, jumps, get on/off an agility table, etc.) with the novel thing near by
- Gradually reduce distance between dog and novel item as dog continues to work and be rewarded for working
- 4- Add duration of stationary behavior
- Work on stays (very brief at first) around/near novel things
- Work on stays (very brief at first) while novel things move toward and away from the dog (people, remote control items, other dogs/animals, etc.)
- Watch dog for any signs of stress. A solid stay behavior can over ride the dog’s desire to leave and can hide their anxiety.
- 5- Work on these steps with as many different sights, sounds and smells as possible. When the dog sees something new and immediately looks at you, you know you are on the right track. When they completely ignore that new thing and remain relaxed and happy, even if you get close to it, the dog understands the concept.