My 3 Favourite Focus games!
Game 1 – to dead toy
We mention focus games game a lot as it is great for all sorts of reasons, forward focus being one of them! If your dog prefers food that’s cool, we suggest using a Clam that our friends from Tug-E-Nuff sell or food that is big enough and can be easily seen. Basically, what ever it is that you are racing to, your dog needs to desire.
Step 1 (shown in photo one): Throw out toy. Restrain your dog and get them excited to increase anticipation – ‘are you ready/3-2-1’ what ever you use to increase arousal. As you get going, push your dog back and say ‘go/get it’.
Step 2 (shown in photo two): Race your dog to the toy. Really mean it, don’t gently jog. Its a RACE!
Step 3 (shown in photo three): Try and beat your dog to the toy! If they win, celebrate with them. If you get there first, pick up the toy and have a party with the toy by yourself.
- Q: My dog doesn’t like to be restrained.
A: Start them on a boundary bed and use your release word when you start the race.
- Q: My dog won’t like being pushed back.
A: Leave that bit out to begin with, but build gradually. Aside from this game, play lots of proximity games and condition handling.
- Q: My dog will think life has ended if I win.
A: Boost their confidence, by letting them win lots first, but we still want you to run, even if you have to fake it, you still need to look like you are running!
- Q: My dog starts off fast, but slows towards the toy.
A: Chances are you have thrown the toy too far before your dog has real grit for the game. Look at the photos and look at how short the distance is here. Start small and grow once you are seeing fire in your dog’s belly.
Game 2 –Race to dead toy – with an added challenge
We introduced the foundation level of race to dead toy. We talked at the end about increasing the distance you throw the toy out gradually. So when you are liking what you are seeing to move the game on, throw the toy out a little further. Now, don’t go too crazy with the distance. We aren’t looking for you to turn into Usain Bolt, this isn’t about a 100m sprint! Think quality!
Before we explain another level of the game depicted in the photos, just what should we be looking for from our dogs. When do we know to move the game on to the next level?
- In the restrain, are you having to fight to keep your dog from bursting through! Think Scrappy-Doo (let me at ’em, let me at ’em!!)
- Is your dog really racing? There’s no politeness with this game. It isn’t a case of ‘after you, no after you!’. We need to see raw desire from your dog and true grit to get to the toy.
- Is your dog’s head low? Do they have crazy wild eyes? Is the fire in their belly truly lit? Is it burning bright?
If you aren’t getting these 3 things, stay at the level you are on, or even go back a step if you have moved on too quickly. You have to promise us not to try the next game until your dog is ready. Promise?! Ok so, here we go:
Step 1 (shown in photo one): Restrain your dog and throw the toy out. As you release, bring your dog around your body in a full circle (do this in both directions).
Step 2 (shown in photo two): Once your dog and you have completed the circle, the race to the toy is on!
We love this level of the game because we are now working on 2 skills. Forward focus and impulse control-BONUS! You can only do this level, when your dog really wants to race and win the toy, hence the fact that this level should only be practised when you are getting ‘grrrr’ with the first level. Lauren always says; you can’t teach impulse control without a pulse! ? When your dog doesn’t truly desire the reward, this isn’t real life! This is training safe! If you want success in the ring you need to make this a challenge for your dog.
IMPORTANT: We recommend playing this level of the game with a training partner present, just in case your dog fobs you off and heads straight to the toy. Your friend can then pick the toy up so your dog doesn’t get self rewarded.
If you are struggling with the first element of this game (doing the circle around your body), first of all, congratulations on making this game so desirable for your dog! Second; try having the toy at a greater distance away from you. Third; use a lower value toy.
Game 3: Wrapping
Barrel work as become an integral part of our agility training for many reasons and one of those is forward focus.
To wrap around an object your dog has to take their eyes off your and become task focussed. This is essentially forward focus, but it looks different to the traditional straight racing type games.
Step 1: We like to lure with food. It gets the dog in motion and gets them out of becoming too ‘thinky’ which is what can sometimes happen when shaping. Practise both ways.
Step 2: Once your dog is wrapping confidently with the lure, be quick to move it on without the lure. Don’t hang around with step 1 for too long! Restrain your dog right next to the object on either the left or the right and use the same hand gesture and once your dog has come back around, reward with the other hand.
For example; restrain your dog using your left hand to the left of the object, release and use the same hand to gesture them around the object, once they have come around the other side, reward them with the right hand.
Essentially, we are looking for semi-circle wraps to begin with from left to right and right to left.
Step 3: As above, but now with a full wrap. The motion your hand should be showing is something similar to stirring a pot. IMPORTANT: Don’t over do it with multi wraps, it’s not needed.
Step 4: Build in some distance away from the object.
Step 5: Transfer this behaviour onto all sorts of different sized objects. Really go to town with this and take this training on the road. A nice big tree is an ideal wrapping object!
About the Author: Lauren Langman is responsible for the design and development of all Devon Dogs classes, events and workshops. She competes in Agility at Grade 7, the highest rank of competition in the British agility arena. She regularly competes and wins at top agility events in the UK including Crufts and Olympia, and has represented the UK at World Agility Championship level on many occasions.