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Focus and Aggression

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I like to read a lot of different dog trainers and see what methods they use. Recently I came across a dog trainer who mentioned that teaching your dog to focus on you can help minimise aggression. I have to say, it seems to make sense. I've mentioned before that Dallas has aggression issues, so I've been paying  a lot more attention to his body language and his behaviour in different situations mostly so I can avoid him reaching his stress threshold and also so I can just understand him better. One thing I notice is if he's focused on something, he doesn't take any notice of his triggers. For instance, if he we are on a walk and we pass a dog and a kid,, he doesn't even notice the kid because he's so focused on greeting the dog. If he's really focused on a good smell, he doesn't notice any bicycles that pass near us. However, if he isn't focused on anything when we see a kid or a bicycle, he lunges, barks, and growls at that trigger.

So, to me it makes sense. I hadn't heard any other dog trainers I've read mention this, but I might have just missed that. Has anyone else heard anything about this?

Even if it's not something that applies to all dogs and seems to just work for Dallas, I do want to concentrate on him focusing on me. I'm conflicted because I like letting him sniff and just be a dog while we're on walks, but also, if focusing on me helps him to not react or be stressed by triggers, it could be really good for him. Do you guys let your dogs just be dogs or do you have your dog focus on you while you're on walks?

Final question, how do you train your dog to focus on you? We do a lot of training. He knows look at me, stay, and lots of fun tricks and basic obedience. He is currently learning heel. He can hold it for probably 30 seconds before he gets distracted, so it's something we're working on to improve. Are there any techniques you use that help your dogs focus on them? Should I just focus on heel? 

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Look for instructions on how to teach 'look at me'.  That will work.


I do use it - some - with Molly, who is fear aggressive.  I also use toys, and general games to keep her engaged rather than reacting.  However: A-) It's short term management to handle a situation where I can't get her away from the trigger, or need to move her past it, so she doesn't practice reacting and b-) management, not something that actually addresses the cause. 


basically, I use it to make her behave.  Not for the whole walk and not with the idea that it's a 'cure'.   She does react much, much less even if I'm slow on the uptake, and her emotional state IS better, but it's a result of meds and doing the opposite of 'focus on me' - having her calmly watch and allowing her to information gather things that she finds alarming, when I'm able to do so with distance. 


The 'focus on me' thing is... well it's a management tool.  Like a leash preventing a dog running off, but not teaching the dog recall.

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I was going to suggest LAT training as well.

I've also seen people train a "watch me" cue for attention also, though that wasn't so much for reactivity but just for general focus-on-me-instead-of-whatever-else-is-going-on-around-you. It's good for dogs whose attention spans are short.

A friend taught it by getting her dog's attention by waving a treat in front of his nose, then moving the treat up to her own nose close to her eyes. As soon as the dog's eyes met hers, she'd click and treat, using the cue "eyes." After that, whenever she wanted his undivided attention, all she had to do was say "eyes" and she had his full attention.

Other cues could be "look at me" (maybe not the best if you're also training LAT) or "pay attention."

Keep in mind that the point of LAT and "watch me" aren't necessarily the same, so it's important to understand the difference and use whichever one is more appropriate to your situation. It sounds like LAT may be more what you're looking for now. You can always train "watch me" as a separate cue at a later time if there's a use for it.

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Forcing my dog to look away from a trigger (with a cue or cookie/toy) is what has been mentioned above: management. More of a "Oh no that dog came out of nowhere, I need to remove myself and my dog now" type of deal. 

My new puppy was quite nervous of dogs when she came home, so we used a combination of "LAT" and "Engage/Disengage" game to get her to look away without me having to nag her. (Seriously there is a lady in my agility class "watch me, watch me, waaaaaatch me, watch ME!"). In my opinion it helped a lot because looking at the trigger and looking away from the trigger were her choice. If she could turn away within a couple seconds, I knew we were good. If she couldn't I knew we were too close, or we were about to get some barking and lunging. 

She's now 6 months old and loves meeting other dogs. We went to a pet festival this past weekend and she met dogs (that I felt were appropriate),  watched an agility demo, saw dogs running/swimming on the beach, and we only had one little barking episode. (This Pug was charging at her on leash, walking on an angle and snorting, and she was just like "No"). More importantly, she was able to just BE around things that used to trigger her without losing her mind. 

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1 hour ago, Shandula said:

...it helped a lot because looking at the trigger and looking away from the trigger were her choice.

This is the beauty of LAT. The dog is indeed given the choice (and the opportunity) to take a look at whatever's scaring her and then make the choice to look to you for guidance and protection. Trying to insist that the dog not look at the scary thing at all can actually increase anxiety. Imagine you're terrified of spiders. You want to at least be able to take a quick look to assess the spider's proximity before trying to be brave and not panic. If someone insists that you can't ever look at the spider but you know it's there, the uncertainty's going to cause your mind to magnify your anxiety and make it even worse.

I see this playing out all the time with my dog reactive dog. If we're near another dog I can ask her to look at that. She will and then will quickly look back to me for direction. If the other dog remains in the area or approaches, she can still take quick looks to assess the situation and look back to me -- sometimes I'll direct her to "look at that" (or just "look"), or she can choose to do it herself. Either's OK with me as long as she redirects her attention back to me. I know where her threshold is, so if the dog will pass as a distance she can handle, we'll stay in place while I reward her for looking and then looking back to me. If the dog's going to get too close then I'll walk away. Either way she knows I'm in charge of the situation and the decision making process. At least as long as the other dog hasn't crossed her threshold.

1 hour ago, Shandula said:

...there is a lady in my agility class "watch me, watch me, waaaaaatch me, watch ME!"

There are one of 2 things going on here. Either the woman's never successfully taught the "watch me" cue in the first place, or she's trying to use it when the dog's over threshold and at a point where it's incapable of responding.

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47 minutes ago, GentleLake said:

This is the beauty of LAT. The dog is indeed given the choice (and the opportunity) to take a look at whatever's scaring her and then make the choice to look to you for guidance and protection. Trying to insist that the dog not look at the scary thing at all can actually increase anxiety. 

 

Yes! Not to mention people tend to get nervous/anxious when they see something they know is going to trigger their dog, and there is just no way your dog (particularly those sensitive Border Collies) doesn't read that. Someone I know has a BC and she doesn't let her look at ANYTHING because she "knows she's going to react". In the 5 minutes I spent hanging out with them at a trial, the dog was pretty happily pointing out dogs (at a decent distance) and staring pointedly at me ("There's a dog lady, give me my Goldfish cracker")

 

51 minutes ago, GentleLake said:

There are one of 2 things going on here. Either the woman's never successfully taught the "watch me" cue in the first place, or she's trying to use it when the dog's over threshold and at a point where it's incapable of responding.

I'm pretty sure it is both. Plus she almost always has to use a cookie to lure the dog's face up, so I'm going to assume it was never really "taught". She's also a Great Dane who I don't think particularly enjoys the agility class. Plus she's reactive. It's not an ideal combination for sure. 

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Super interesting! Dallas does know "look at me" and he does a great job obeying that whenever I ask when we aren't near a trigger. I haven't been able to identify his threshold yet of when we get too close to a trigger and I lose him, but I think we're going to be doing that with the behaviour therapist soon in the next couple of weeks. Recently we've just been avoiding the triggers as much as possible to keep his stress levels down. (I need to get him comfortable with a muzzle before we move on to actually working on the behaviour - got that conquered now so we have an appointment soon to move on to the next step). I've never heard of LAT training so I'll be searching that out. I'm eager to read more about it! 

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4 hours ago, Shandula said:

Someone I know has a BC and she doesn't let her look at ANYTHING because she "knows she's going to react". In the 5 minutes I spent hanging out with them at a trial, the dog was pretty happily pointing out dogs (at a decent distance) and staring pointedly at me ("There's a dog lady, give me my Goldfish cracker")

Perfect example how this can change the emotional response that the dog has to whatever was previously causing anxiety and fear.

I hope the woman took note of it and will continue to work with her in this way.

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