Concentration for a dog is defined as giving complete attention, intense mental effort. Focusing on tasks or skills means getting the dog’s complete attention and creating a learning environment. In order for a dog to compete in dog sports, be a reliable working dog, or initiate cues reliably they need to be taught to concentrate. These 12 steps will help to keep a dog calm, focused and balanced so they can reliably concentrate.
The base training will be creating an attentive willingness within the dog. No matter what a dog is being taught to do the first part is teaching attentiveness. There are many types of exercises to create an attentive dog, which is one who will find your eyes and hold them for several seconds or minutes. My favorite tool to create an attentive dog is the clicker. Karen Pryor’s website http://www.clickertraining.com is dedicated to clicker training and where you’ll find some great information on the topic. The clicker marks the behavior you want with a click, click sound that eminates from a small box . Clickers come in a variety of sounds, shapes and sizes.
The clicker marks the exact moment of attentiveness and then it is highly reinforces with a food motivator. Eventually, the clicker and the food are faded out as the behavior becomes stronger. A trilogy of to-do=now attention exercises start with name recognition, then progress to name plus the addition of a cue and then create focus with incrementally increasing the duration of eye contact.
Name recognition means the dog becomes responsive to their name and turns to look at you. The act of looking equals concentration and focus. Simply wait for the dog to look at you. Wait for the look, then click it. If the dog is not looking, they are not concentrating on you. The look means they are learning. Click the exact moment this happens and release a reward when the dog arrives in front of you. Do several times until the dog is responding eagerly to hearing their name.
Now add a cue to the above exercise, such as come. The click will come after the dog is on their way to you and after the cue of come. The treat will be delivered in the position of being in front of you.
Duration of attention in incremental seconds starts by setting a timer to five minutes. This type of watch me is willingly given, not cued. So simply wait for eye contact, click it, and feed it. Increase duration slowly going up and down from one second to 30 and beyond over a five minute period.
Attention exercises are critical to teaching a dog to concentrate.
Interacting through play with a dog translates to concentration. Concentrating on the activity, learning a new trick or interacting with you and a new toy provide not only a great outlet, a bond increaser, a relationship builder, but also willingly offered focus and concentration. Play training makes learning fun. Grabbing a ball and teaching retrieve, or teaching a dog to fetch a frisbee, or playing a game of give and take allow the dog to concentrate in natural ways. Play training motivates the dog to succeed.
There are books focusing on play training such as Patricia Gail’s book, “Playtraining Your Dog” found at “http://www.amazon.com/Playtraining-Your-Patricia-Gail-Burnham/dp/0312616910”.
Mentally stimulating activity
Activity that helps a dog to think is mentally stimulating activity. It teaches intense concentration and to complete a task. There are many mentally stimulating toys on the market today many of which can be found at Doggie Einstein http://www.doggieeinstein.com/, Karen Pryor’s clicker training website
store http://store.clickertraining.com/boredombusters1.html and at your local dog stores.
Creating homemade activities such as playing the find it game and hiding toys or food underneath cups or bowls is one activity, or filling a small water bottle with treats or kibble and leaving the cap off OR cutting a hole in the middle and keeping the cap on will stimulate the dog’s mental activity in figuring out how to roll the item to get the treats to fall out. Any activity requiring a dog to use their brain to figure something out is a great way to facilitate concentration. From foraging activities to figuring out how to remove pieces from stuffed educational toys all will build toward focused concentration.
Trick training requires interaction. Interaction with you assures the dog will not only have fun, but must listen to you, must learn and must concentrate on the process. There are wonderfully detailed books out on trick training to include my favorites by Kyra Sundance, “101 Dog Tricks” http://kyra.com/ and more.
Shaping is a clicker training technique. With this technique the clicker does the talking, the guiding. Present an object, such as a box, and start by clicking and rewarding anything and everything the dog does to interact creatively with the box.
In the beginning you will need to be encouraging, especially with a dog who loses attention on a task. Click and treat the slightest acts, such as looking at the object, moving toward it and incrementally raise the criteria. Soon the dog will be thinking of ways to interact with the object to create a click and get a reward. Have fun with this, and change up the object from a box to a ball, a cone, a toy. Shaping can also be used to train lie down, stand, sit and more.
Tellington Touch for calm, focus and balanced concentration.
There are three systems to Tellington Touch to include bodywork, leading exercises and higher learning coursework.
Bodywork relaxes, focuses, calms and balances. L
Leading exercises using a harness and two-points of contact lead www.tellingtontouch.com takes the pressure away from the neck, while obstacle coursework shows a dog how to focus and concentrate and to work as a team with their owner in a higher learning environment.
As a certified Tellington Touch practitioner, I use this positive method of training in nearly all aspects from working with aggression, reactivity, hyperativity, jumping, barking and shy/fearful dogs to gain concentration. This method uses calm, focused interaction to influence behavior without treats or markers. All builds confidence, creates concentration and increases the human dog bond.
Relaxation protocols, zen, and music
Relaxation protocols require focused positions such as sit stay, down stay, stand stay. The stay is a key relaxation protocol and is often called a zen activity. For dogs who learn strong stay exercises it works to keep them in one position to learn how to relax, which then focuses them on the process and helps them concentrate.
Stay starts with increasing duration, then distance and until reliability can be achieved with out-of-sight stays.
http://dogscouts.org/Protocol_for_relaxation.html Dr. Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol is a great way to start the process.
Trainer Susan Ailsby http://www.dragonflyllama.com/ also has several zen techniques in an interactive web format to gauge success. Whichever method is used relaxation positions are basic cues providing an environment of learned concentration.
Music therapy or audio-biotechnology, psycho-technology relaxes a dog and can create deep, refreshing sleep. This helps a dog to process information. A great music series for dogs has been developed and is called “Through a Dog’s Ear” http://www.throughadogsear.com/. There are several varieties of music, tested on dogs, and the musical patterns appeal to dogs.
Impulse control for dogs assures the dog will make good decisions. Impulse control not only keeps a dog safe, but shows them how to concentrate, to think things through. Impulse control comes in the form of teaching the cue leave it or mine, or teaching trades or give and take, and to listen whether the dog needs to learn coming through people, other dogs or simply to leave food offered by strangers. It includes stay as an impulse control exercise. Dogs with impulse control can concentrate and even think creatively making good decisions that ultimately could save their lives.
Exercise and spending quality time
Dogs require at least 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise or running, racing, chasing, playing. An on leash walk of one to two hours per day could substitute for the 30 minutes of continued hiking, or running type of exercise.
The goal is to release energy, build calming serotonin levels and increase oxygen to help a dog concentrate. If a dog’s basic exercise needs are not being met, they become bored, more easily distracted and their mind wanders. They have no release of energy except to get into trouble like chewing, barking, pacing, digging. Exercise is a great concentration builder.
Building a work ethic
For dog sports a work ethic is required, whether it comes in the form of completing a clean agility run or herding sheep for competition. Search dogs, gun dogs, earth dogs and obedience ring champions have a work ethic because they have been taught to concentrate on a task and complete it under responsiveness to specific cues and interaction with their owners.
Companion dogs who learn to have a job through trick training or to be a personal service dog become a better companion. The act of concentration makes it easy for the dog to be a willing participant, responsive to cues and to acclimate to the real life surrounding their human.
Socialization and familiarization
Dogs need to have many experiences outside of the home in the form of socialization with people, all types, and other dogs and animals. They also need to become familiarized with sounds, objects, and real life living in a human’s world, such as talking on a cell phone, dropping a broom and making a loud sound, and even the sudden appearance of big rocks, wind, bicycles, skateboarders and all types of vehicles. There is so much in our world that is scary to a dog that simply socialization and familiarization can help to make a well-rounded dog who can concentrate on the joy of learning and participating rather than the fear of new things, new people, new sounds.
There could be medical reasons for a dog’s inability to concentrate due to hyperactivity or lack of focus, as might be found in having a hypothyroid condition.
Eye problems or hearing losses can also result in what seems to be a lack of concentration when in fact a health condition is present and needs specialized attention. Even neurological damage can inhibit the dog’s ability to concentrate.
All of the above will bring immediate results and help a dog to concentrate to the greatest of their individual ability and potential. The exercises are well worth the time involved and will reap years of reward as the dog learns how to concentrate and focus.