And now for something slightly different!
One of my favorite online classes is starting again in two weeks, and I want to tell you guys why I love it so much just in case it might be able to help some of you, too.
As you guys know, Nala is a sensitive dog: she’s sensitive to my mood, she’s sensitive to pressure of all kinds, she sometimes worries about being wrong. Most of all, she can be a real worrier about novelty, especially novel environments and weird shaped objects.
As I’ve discussed before, about four or five months after we adopted Nala, we were in a terrible place–more terrible than I’ve really been willing to fully admit to you guys. Although Nala has always been a pleasure at home, for a long time she was really, really difficult to take out into the world. Her hypervigilant scanning, her non-stop pulling, her total inability to respond to me. She would usually take food–snatching it out of my fingers and bloodying my cuticles–but more often than not she wouldn’t even swallow it, much less stick around and see what else I might have to offer.
Eventually I realized that Nala wasn’t bored by me or blowing me off, and that she wasn’t distracted only because she had a short attention span (although when she first came home, that was one of her many problems–I could see steam coming out of her ears after a minute or so of training). It finally dawned on me that she must, like many members of the herding group (that article is about border collies, but any of you with herding dogs will probably find yourselves nodding along with it), not cope with change of any kind very well. As much as she seemed to look forward to going new places, they were also overstimulating and stressful for her; her behavior was deteriorating even as she was learning more skills for being a well-mannered dog. It was stressful to take her places, and, well, it was humiliating–particularly in Rally classes, which I nearly quit in frustration.
I had no idea how to help her cope, and I worried that continuing to expose her to these stressful situations would be flooding, and would sensitize her further. And so Nala’s world began to shrink. We stopped going on hikes. Aside from walks in our neighborhood, our fun outings slowly disappeared. And I felt so guilty–Nala isn’t reactive. She isn’t afraid of people. She’s incredibly dog social. She was not obviously afraid of anything–just really, really weird and disconnected from me in new places. I felt totally lost.
If we hadn’t taken Get Focused! by Deb Jones and Judy Keller at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, I’m not sure we ever would have been able to turn it around. I’m not saying that this class, and this class alone, fixed Nala and now she’s completely perfect. As you know, we have our ongoing struggles. But this class helped me open her world up again. It helped me figure out why she couldn’t connect with me in public. It dialed down her hypervigilance enough that I could figure out what was scaring her and countercondition it. It gave me ways to provide her the support that she needs in new environments, and, overall, her environmental sensitivity is so much less extreme than it was six months ago.
I still use exercises from this class nearly every day. I’m a freaking believer, guys. Even though the class is structured for people who do dog sports and need considerable handler focus for that activity, I think it can be helpful for any environmentally sensitive dog.
I’m going to try to explain why it worked so well for us, the better to help you decide if it’s a good fit for you.
- Learning to accurately assess whether your dog can work: Nala will take treats even when she is too stressed and over threshold to be able to swallow it. If the standard metrics for determining threshold don’t work for you and your dog, this class may help you.
- Growing an attention span: Instead of immediately asking Nala to focus on me while we drilled multiple behaviors–inside and out–the exercises in this class build a strong foundation from the ground up. Together, Nala and I learned patterns that we could both understand for starting work, taking a break from work, and ending work. Nala learned to turn on the training game by offering focus. I learned that I needed to promise her that I would not ask for more than she could give.
- Fixing what I broke: Does your dog check out immediately after you give her a treat? Mine did. This class fixed that.
- Taking smaller steps: Deb and Judy have lots of brilliant ideas for steps between the most boring room in your house and the great outdoors. For our part, we have played a lot of focus games around the open windows and doorways of our house.
- Learning not to nag: No more “watch me”s. No more endless kissy sounds. No more wearing out Nala’s name. No more begging her to pay attention to me and getting more and more frustrated as she didn’t. Nala rarely checks out while we’re working now–and when she does, she comes back almost immediately. And all because I learned what to do instead of nagging.
The exercises are simple but brilliant. And even though I took this class at Bronze–meaning that I audited it without any access to or feedback from the instructor–it made a huge difference for us.
Bottom line: If you need great handler focus for dog sports or you simply can’t get your dog to look at you outside, I highly recommend this class.
A note on the way that FDSA classes are set up: there are three levels. Gold spots are the most expensive, since they get direct feedback from the instructor on a set number of videos–or minutes of video–every week. Their threads are accessible to every member of the course. Silver spots don’t get to post videos, but they do get to ask the instructor general questions about applying techniques to different kinds of dogs. Bronze spots don’t get access to the instructor at all. However, between the lectures and the Gold threads, which usually contain a wide variety of types of dogs and levels of experience from the handler, it’s not too hard to problem solve for yourself. There’s also usually a lurker group on facebook, and many of them are very active, so you can post videos and questions there for you and your classmates to troubleshot together.
Oh, and guess what? You can win a free Bronze spot!
Deb Jones, one of the instructors of Get Focused! is having a contest over on her timeline. Just click this link to see the contest. In order to enter, just add Deb as a friend, then comment telling her why you and your dog need more focus in your lives and attach a cute picture. The contest closes on Monday.
You may notice that the testimonial there is about Nala! Yes, we participated in a contest to win a free bronze spot by writing a testimonial about Get Focused and came in second, so we got a free Fenzi class too. But I’ve been planning for months to write a review about this class the next time it ran. This blog review was not in any way solicited, and, as always, I only share information that I think will be pertinent to my readers.
Here’s the link to the contest again: Deb Jones’s Facebook Page
And here’s the Fenzi facebook page, which periodically posts news and has at least one other contest running: Fenzi Dog Sports Academy
And here’s the review of Get Focused! that convinced me to take the class: Team Unruly’s Get Focused Review
[This review may seem weird for Fit Dog Friday. But all of the things that we do to keep Nala active and fit–hikes, jumping over fallen treats, balancing on big rocks–are made possible by the skills that I learned from this class. Without them, Nala was an overstimulated mess whom I couldn’t trust to recall in new places, much less convince her to balance on silly stuff.]
Have any questions about online classes and why I like them? Would you take an online class with your dog? Does your dog look at you outside? Talk to me in the comments!
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