Sunday, January 30, 2011

Intensive Distraction Training

I've learned a new technique for training Coco to stay focused on me no matter what is going on around us. It has been a gradual process. Partly, because it takes me time to get used to new commands, especially when they are sequential commands.

So I broke things down so I could work on this new training method.

Coco knows sit, stay, leave it and watch me. She can do all of these things on or off leash and now I needed to bring it all together. I needed to train Coco to sit and stay and keep her eyes focused on mine and to be able to drop a treat and leave it until I gave her the get your treat command and then, and this was the tricky part, have her go back into a sit stay.

I made sure Coco saw I had a delicious treat to give her. Then I told her gently, in a conversational tone, to sit and watch me. Then as I dropped a treat to an area between her feet and mine, I held the other at her eye level and told her to leave it and watch me. Getting her focus first on the treat in my hand and then to my eyes. We rehearsed this many times and then I started dropping the treat nearer her each time we worked. I did this everyday. Increasing the space between Coco and me and decreasing the space between the treat and her feet. As we did this she became more and more focused on my eyes. And then she didn't even look at the treat anymore. And she watched me walk out of the room and her gaze was fixed until I came back in. Then we worked with her down staying with the same techniques.

Then I decided to really test her. I got a beef bone. She had never had one before. And I set it out on the floor and had her sit stay and watch me. I walked all over and did my household chores. And she couldn't take her eyes off of me. Staying completely still and only moving her head and eyes in my direction. I timed this exercise for 15 minutes. She did beautifully. Then I gave her the go ahead girl, get your treat and she did.

She was so precious. She kept bringing the bone over to me and dropping it at my feet. Then I'd tell her, "Go ahead girl, it's your treat." And she would chew on it just a little and then give it back to me again. After doing this a few times she finally began to enjoy her bone.

The dignity and respectful nature of the Akita is what I love most about them. And Coco is no exception.

Right now it is cold and icy outside. But when it warms up enough for me to walk with her safely, so I don't slip and fall, then I will begin working her with the distractions of other dogs and people out enjoying their walks. We will begin working at a distance which will be easy for her to keep her focus and then we will get closer to the distractions.

The more she is distracted the faster I will throw a treat to her feet and tell her to watch me and then when she is focused, let her get her treat.

I'm hoping when we get to this point that I'll be able to have someone help take a video of us working.

This technique, these sequential commands, has been incredibly affective. While we are inside I work Coco throughout the day in unexpected ways. She never knows when I will set into motion these commands and what kind of wonderful treat I will have for her. She now stays so focused she doesn't even look to see what the treat is. This is remarkable!!!

Coco has great manners and greets everyone, only on command, gently and sweetly. My goal in training is to have her display the same kind of restraint and then good manners when we are out and about and a dog comes running up to her.

Coco loves playing with other dogs. But even if they are being friendly she must keep her focus on me and not the other dog unless I give her the go ahead and play command. This is very important because during the winter or when it is raining and we could be walking on slick surfaces, I will need her to stay completely focused on what we are doing.

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