First a reminder
I was recently reminded about how important energy is when working with dogs. Now I’m not talking the type of energy a particular famous “rehabilitator” talks about or suggests. It’s actually sort of the opposite.
A student was struggling with keeping her dog’s focus and attention. She was working with the “follow me” game (high rate of reinforcement clicking for dog entering your space as you move about) and her dog would come into her space, earn a reward, then go back to the end of the leash and stare at all the other dogs for a few minutes before reengaging with her handler. I had them trying to shape and capture her attention but they weren’t getting too far. We swapped tactics and I had them increase to a very high rate of reinforcement as soon as the pup gave some eye contact. This rate of reinforcement increase clearly helped but it was still difficult.
I went over to them and took the leash and started working their pup. I was very upbeat with my energy (but not necessarily in how I was working the dog, she is a timid and fearful pup, she can get spooked with a handler who is too animated), had a high rate of reinforcement, was keeping eye contact, using my body language to move her around (she’s very keen on body movement), and really turned it into a big exciting game for her and she was completely focused on me. Her handlers were amazed at the huge changes they saw between how she acted with their handling and with mine.
We talked it out a little bit and they noticed my attention to the dog, the very positive and fun energy I had, the subtle body movements to move the pup around an keep the game really interesting and my confidence in handling… but what they kept hitting on was just my energy. They were a little frustrated, perhaps a little unimpressed, and just not very upbeat in their energy (they were not good at faking it with just their tone of voice, their body language was clearly a little bit dragging) but I was confident, having fun, egging on the pup to keep playing my game and it worked beautifully.
The handlers made a really good attempt at changing their energy and the results were great! They started to keep the pup’s attention beautifully. At the heart of the improvement was their change in energy from lackluster to confident and upbeat.
So, what does this mean? If you are struggling… sometimes all it takes is a change in energy (though with the connotation that “energy” has to many people [according to those who watch a certain cable tv show], saying this makes me feel very uncomfortable but I couldn’t, at 1 am, find an alternative word to accurately describe the change). Keep it light and keep it fun!