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Dog Sport Skills, Book 4: Focus and Engage!
Attention and focus are two much sought after skills in the dog sports world. It is no use your dog knowing a behaviour, if he is unable to perform it in training and competition scenarios, due to a lack of focus and engagement.
In the much anticipated fourth, and supposedly final, book in the highly acclaimed Dog Sport Skills Series, Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones, turn their attention to focus and engagement. They look at what factors inhibit focus in performance dog, providing solutions for these, as well as step by step instructions on how to teach your dog to focus. We also learn how to train for engagement, creating a dog that voluntarily pushes for a chance to work.
Packed with expert advice, troubleshooting, games and exercises, this book holds the recipe for creating a top notch competitor who can remain focused on the job at all times.
Part one; The Basics, begins with an introduction that explains what focus and engagement mean, why does it happen, and how do you get it. Fenzi and Jones provide us with three real life case studies to demonstrate why these concepts are so important. They continue with another case study to show why it is not enough to simply know how to do something, you have to be fully present whilst doing it. We also learn how focus differs from engagement, and why we should train focus from the start.
Chapter two provides an overview of the focus analysis laid out in the following chapters. Fenzi and Jones explain that before we can teach focus, we must identify the issues contributing towards a current lack of focus. They divide the cause of focus issues into the following categories;
• Stress, anxiety and fear
• Training issues
The authors stress the importance of remaining objective when trying to determine these causes, and of narrowing down the specifics in order to know where to best concentrate your efforts.
Chapter three looks at stress, anxiety and fear, detailing what these are and how the dog displays them. They also look at common responses from the dog when in these situations, such as, flee, fight and freeze. Fenzi and Jones continue to consider the importance of environmental exposure, the role of pressure in stress and anxiety, and how these three emotions are linked to the ability to focus.
Chapter four moves on to curiosity, explaining the three different forms of curiosity, environmental, sociable and cautious, also adding that curiosity does not necessarily have to the enemy.
In chapter 5, Fenzi and Jones identify some common training mistakes that can cause focus issues. These include;
• Lumping information rather than splitting it
• Lack of clarity
• Lack of fluency
• Reducing reinforcers poorly or not at all
• Using pressure
Chapter six concentrates on temperament, and explains the five behavioural characteristics that are inherited and tend to be stable throughout life. Fenzi and Jones then look at how being at one end or the other of the following personality traits affects a dog’s ability to focus;
• Introverted dogs
• Sensitive dogs
• Natural activity levels
• Response to stress
They summarise that working within your dog’s temperament is key.
Chapter seven helps you to make sense of your focus analysis results. The authors then go on to tell us how the book can and cannot help you if you have diagnosed your dog with one of the above conditions.
Chapter eight continues by selecting and acclimating to working environments. Fenzi and Jones show us how to select the right environment for training, the importance and process of acclimatisation, as well as how to add new work environments. They also consider what to do if your dog is nervous, what the opposite of acclimation is, and how to move from acclimation to work.
In chapter nine, Fenzi and Jones share some advice about the fact that although failure is inevitable, we should never try and train an unfocused dog.
We then move on to part two, which begins with focus foundation, introducing us to the following four exercises to start building focus;
• Rapid fire treats
• Captured focus
• Offered eye contact
• Turning on and off
Chapter eleven looks at adding behaviours. Fenzi and Jones explain that we train focus in order to move on to the next step, i.e. adding behaviour. This chapter shows us how to do that, looking at adding more work to focus, and reducing reinforcement within focus work.
Chapter twelve considers adding duration and movement, providing exercises for building duration, moving focus and changes in behaviour and arousal level.
Chapter thirteen deals with distractions and other challenges, showing us how to add in distractions, and start removing reinforcement.
In chapter fourteen, Fenzi and Jones, provide us with 18 focus games based on six themes, which represent a vitally important aspect in developing a healthy personal and working replationship with your dog, while providing a structure for future training sessions. These themes are;
• Baby steps
• Get moving
• Control yourself
• Fun and control
Part three looks at engagement, and chapter fifteen discusses what it is, what engagement training is, how engagement differs from focus, why movement is important, and is engagement training really necessary.
Chapter sixteen looks at what an engaged dog should look like, focusing on the core features of engagement, using training cues during engagement, mouthing, biting and barking during engagement, and how physical should an engaged dog be.
In chapter seventeen, the authors concentrate on the human half of engagement, considering what an engaged human should look like, whose responsibility is it to create engagement, and why we should not beg for it.
Chapter eighteen asks the question, can engagement really be trained, and Fenzi and Jones also consider the link between a conditioned emotional response and engagement.
Chapter nineteen takes us through the stages of engagement which include;
• Handler starts engagement
• Dog starts engagement
• Dog starts and sustains engagement
• Dog asks for engagement and work
It also provides some troubleshooting advice.
Chapter twenty moves on to handling disengagement, focusing on disengagement for both novice and advanced dogs.
Chapter twenty one goes back to acclimation, introducing us to the following more advanced concepts;
• Enforced acclimation
• The role of a stay in acclimation
• Rest periods within work
• Acclimation for the real world
• Acclimation for trial preparation
In chapter twenty two, Fenzi and Jones consider engagement for competition, looking at, adding in work, the fifth stage of engagement, generalising engagement, reducing reinforcement, and alternating challenging sessions with easy ones.
In Chapter twenty three we are provides with a conclusion and summary of the Dog Sport Series as a whole.
Between focus and Engagement training, struggling competitors are likely to find the missing piece between training at home with cookies and trialing in the challenging competition setting.
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