Selecting Criteria

Two weeks ago I talked about criteria - decide what is important to you and hold the line.

Now I'm going to tell you one more thing, since it might appear that I have a lot of criteria for one young dog.  In reality, I only have one criteria for Lyra. I expect her to concentrate on her work.

Teaching is my responsibility.  If Lyra performs incorrectly but is concentrating, then she either doesn't know how to perform or cannot perform for some reason.   If this is the case, then I have to find a way to break down the work so that she can perform at a higher level.  Go ahead and forge on your heeling - just pay attention to me while you do it.  I'll work on that forging over time, at home during our regular training.

If Lyra is focused but worried or stressed, then I have to find a way to make the environment more manageable.  Trainer responsibility.  When I see what appears to be stress or discomfort, I'll end work so that she can look around.  Not as a punishment, but so she can try again when she feels safe.

And if Lyra is bored but focused on me, or if I have any reason to believe that she is experiencing any physical discomfort, then I need to deal with those issues as well.

Generalization and ring preparation are my responsibility as well, but here the line blurs. I  am responsible for teaching any details that Lyra must know in order to be confident in the ring, but Lyra needs to make the effort to pay attention in the face of distractions.

But if Lyra becomes interested in something else - in the middle of training - then she has crossed the line.  I do not allow multi-tasking.  Lyra can always choose not to work, but she cannot have her cake and eat it too. She cannot check in and out of work; taking the toys, cookies and interaction and visiting with the environment at the same time.

If we are working together, then it is rude for me to ignore Lyra, and it is rude for Lyra to ignore me.  We both need to take our jobs seriously and give our full effort.

Now, if I make a habit of ignoring my dog in training then my dog will find training boring or confusing.  See above - I need to change.  Ending training wouldn't work anyway - that's technique is only effective if the dog really does want to work.

At the end of the day, dogs that pay attention and are fully engaged are not the ones who are struggling with their training or competitions.  Engaged dogs are succeeding and enjoying their work, to the extent that they are well prepared and trained with joy.

It is a misconception that high expectations make work a misery for a dog, indeed, I would argue for the reverse.  I'd say clear criteria (at whatever standard you believe your dog is capable of achieving) allows your dog to relax and focus on what they need to do.  Inconsistent criteria creates stress and frustration, because the dog never knows how to "win".  Lyra knows how to win - stay focused.  The rest I can take care in a training session away from competition.

Select your criteria.  Hold your criteria.  And do your best to meet the human criteria (100% focus on your dog in training) with equal consistency.

On an unrelated note, if you're interested in Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, sign up here to receive the class schedule every other month.  New classes start June 1st!


Sam Tatters

Attention between dog & handler is so important. I really struggle to understand people who take their dog for a walk and spend the entire time on their mobile, ignoring their dog; let alone those who suddenly stop working with their dog to do something else.


Great post, Denise.

So I have a question for you. I have a FAB little dog with whom I am working, of a breed not known to find humans of particular interest. When she is “on” she is an amazing worker. However, your one major criteria – focus/concentration – is her weak point. I have found out, as you noted, ending the session does not help (tried it, the environment was equally as interesting as anything I was able to offer her). What would you do in that case? There are days where I cannot find anything (short of say, access to a caged varmint) that piques her interest over what is in the environment.

What I’ve been doing is keeping my sessions shorter so that I end before I lose her, but sometimes I miss the boat and I end up with a dog who checks in and out. It can be quite frustrating, especially given her overall brilliance.

jackie Phillips

Exactly what I have been thinking/feeling/saying for a long time: teach the dog and then make them responsible for what they do. Perfect!

Marcia in NorCal


The other part of this that resonates with me is the notion that the handler has equal responsibility to pay attention to the dog during training, that it is “rude” to ignore one’s partner. The dog I am training now, I’m teaching him a “settle” for when we have finished or are taking a break while I study a course or talk to a friend or instructor; no attention required on either end of the leash… it only seems fair to make the situation and the criteria as clear as I possibly can.

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