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Training Tips for Sensitive and/or Distracted Dogs. Episode 1. Learn your Dog

Since I felt Dashee has truly been improving I really wanted to write some blogs that will help other dogs, similar to her, and their owners. So the next few posts will be mostly for dogs that have a tendency to be distracted and/ or sensitive about things in the world, as well as prone to shut down. But I think any dog and trainer will benefit from the ideas!

Sensitive/ Distracted/ Shut Down dogs

What you might frequently see, depending on temperament, is a dog that starts sniffing during or between exercises, stops playing and zooms around, disconnects with the owner, freezes and does something I call jokingly a 'zombie face' (standing still and looking nowhere), engages more with the environment - also other people and dogs, slows down when performing exercises or just does not have attitude they could have. Why do they have the tendency to behave that way? I think the main reasons are: genetics - some dogs are just born more sensitive/ less human-orientated than others, experience - some bad experience or actually just the lack of it, and environment - some things will have more impact on your dog's behaviour even if we are not aware of it at the moment. Usually it's a total mixture of these three aspects. Many people won't notice the little signs that creep in during their training or everyday life - and I was one of the ones that noticed it a bit too late as well! And frequently dogs like that are not that easy to figure out!

Learning your dog

'Train the dog in front of you' by Denise Fenzi is my favourite ever dog training quote for sure! It applies to so many different spectrums of training dogs... as well as living with them. For me the quote pinpoints the fact that every dog has a different personality but also that every dog's behaviour may vary depending what situation they are in AND every dog changes over time and a dog we had a year ago is almost like another dog to what we have now, and we need to adjust to that. Every dog is different - we all kind of know it and understand it... yet again it is so difficult at times to distance yourself emotionally from our own dog, our expectations, plans etc. I am not here to preach - just showing you my own experience. Some dogs are also more difficult to 'read' and learn about as well. They keep themselves to themselves, show displacement behaviours that are not that clear to us. But, hey ho! - here's comes the art of dog training! What I'd like you to start doing more is observing your dog more closely, looking for little signs that will tell you the attitude is dropping down (watch eyes, tail, ears, energy level). Watch the environment - what affects your dog's behaviour?

Labelling your dog (not!)

We all do that at least a bit. And to some extend it's absolutely normal and it actually helps us with understanding things better. Even this blog - 'Sensitive and/or Distracted Dogs' labels a type of dogs - but I reckon there is a need to describe what I will be writing about. And I feel it's good in this case as it creates sort of 'the grammar of dog training' with rules, exceptions and irregulars. But the important part for me is for you not to be putting a label to your own dog and KEEPING it there without trying to help them. It's great to realise what are our dogs' temperaments and their tendencies/ preferences. BUT I have seen way too many people keeping the labels on the dogs (things that could be worked on!) and not doing anything about it: 'My dog does not play' (and never trying to learn to play with the dog better), 'My dog is not food motivated' (and feeding the dog at home before the session and bringing boring, dry treats), 'My dog is stubborn' (and not working on better work ethics and motivation) etc. Of course some things cannot be undone or jumped over (eg. a dog with a congenital tendency to be sensitive to body pressure) but there is, most of the times, plenty of room for improvement!

And if you have someone around you that has been working really, really hard to make a difference for their dog let them know! Tell them how much more focused/ motivated/ eager their dog is now! Sometimes it's hard to see the progress yourself and a little kind comment is going to boost their confidence right up! I remember that after one of my Agility sessions at a camp the trainer said how good Dashee now was (as he initially had met her half a year earlier). I replied starting with 'But...' And then I heard 'but she never gave up, did she?' And that was right. She did not. That used to be our main challenge but she was trying her best until the end of the session!

In the next episode I am going to explain different types of breaks we can use in training to help our dogs with confidence, attitude, success and efficacy of your training.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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