In Part One of this two-part series, we talked about what drive is, why it’s important, and the difference between drive and arousal. This week, we’re going to take a peek at some strategies to increase focus for dogs prone to arousal and talk about how to build drive.
Focus and agility
Now that we can tell the difference between drive and arousal, it’s time to apply what we’ve learned to agility class. Most dogs who are serious about their agility are tempted to bark at other dogs running a course. (Heck, some dogs bark while they run the course!) Some handlers look at this tendency proudly, noting how much “drive” the dog has to do agility.
But before we go slapping the “drive” label on anything that barks, let’s review our definition from last week: Arousal plus focus on the handler equals drive. Barking wildly while other dogs run does not fall under this definition!
So, how do we prep our dog for this and numerous other distractions while on the course? And what can we do with a dog who is determined to find something else to focus on besides the handler?
First, let’s up the ante on Doggie Zen. Start requesting your dog’s attention/eye contact for longer periods before clicking and treating. Use your dog’s favorite treats (or favorite toy!), held just out of reach. Practice in locations with other distractions: the vet’s office, the grocery store parking lot, or just outside the dog park. At home, add a verbal “Leave It” cue and start putting the treats on the floor instead of in your hand — first behind you, then (the ultimate!) between you and your dog.
Second, start or review the Name Game. You can use this same method to enhance your dog’s response to your on-course recall word, as well.
Use these tools in a distracting situation to gain and maintain your dog’s focus. If your dog starts barking at something, move farther away from the action until he or she is able to focus on you. Then praise, reward and make your way back to the distraction.
To see a great example of how channeling your dog’s drive and focus can be helpful (and an amusing look at how a simply aroused dog behaves), check out this video!
Slow dog? Build drive!
The easiest way to get a faster dog on the course is to use what he already loves — a game or toy! Pair your dog’s favorite game with an “on/off” cue — remember “Go Wild and Freeze”?
Does your dog have a favorite game, such as tug or fetch? If not, it’s time to find out which non-food-eating activity your dog enjoys most. Dogs who have a natural retrieving instinct are likely to enjoy chasing balls, discs or other toys, while wrestlers often enjoy tugging on ropes or leashes. Terriers typically like chase-and-pounce games. If you have a timid dog, play gently at first, allowing the dog to “win” the toy often.
Your body language and tone of voice is also vital to enhancing your dog’s drive. Using a high-pitched, excited, happy tone works to bring out the puppy in most every dog. Practice using this tone during all of your dog’s favorite rowdy activities, such as walking or feeding time. When working on an obstacle, make sure your body language is inviting to the dog. Don’t stare at the dog, and turn your body sideways or keep your back to him or her as he or she navigates an obstacle.
Experiment with both your body and voice to see what your dog responds to best.