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I brought my pup home five weeks before covid lockdown. During those five weeks we took her all over town and to puppy socials. I had several lessons with a private trainer. Then covid struck. I did two zoom virtual puppy obedience classes and one indoor zoom virtual agility intro series. I taught her enough for a trick dog novice title. Vala is very smart and can do everything great—when there are no distractions. BUT she is a holy terror in actual in person classes.

We live in the city, so have been sending her to half day outdoor daycare out of the city five days a week for months, and she loves it. All dogs are her best friends. She runs around with them like crazy. So we know she is getting plenty of exercise. She is now 17 months old. We started intro to agility five weeks ago in person. She spends the first twenty minutes sniffing everything and lunging at every dog and human to make friends. They are not thrilled. I cannot for the life of me get her to focus on me. When she finally does, she is brilliant. What can I be doing with her to fix this issue?

I should also say that she is a very high energy performance girl. Despite that, she has an off switch in the house and will lie quietly at my feet while I read or do computer things. I was a pretty high energy old gal myself until a year ago when I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Have done chemo, surgery, radiation, and more chemo now. I am not my old self. But I desperately need to get her to focus on me despite distractions or we won’t be able to move forward In agility.

Help!
 

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I have an 18 month old adolescent dog who definitely has (getting closer to had) the over friendly/hyper greeter thing. It has been more towards other dogs than people. When I got him we were waiting for puppy kindergarten, but it was canceled because of COVID -- and yes, COVID dogs are a thing. I totally empathize with you. I would have taken mine out and about to hardware stores, etc., but when COVID began they didn't know how it was transmitted and heading out to hang with the general public wasn't advisable.

Before I get long-winded, my thoughts are to see if you can take some private agility until you get it more under control and find a balanced trainer to help you work through more obedience type training. If you are determined to stay in group agility, are you leashing him in between runs? It would seem to be a necessity, but if he is lunging at other dogs I think you are giving him a lot of reinforcement for lunging on the leash which is not a good thing. Is he crate trained and is that a possibility? I've taken a raised bed and practiced place in between runs.

Daycare could be encouraging the behavior if he attends often. He needs to learn agility time is working time, not playtime.

I feel like we are turning a corner and this is what all I've done as far as classes are concerned:

1) five week basic obedience/manners class twice
2) five weeks advanced obedience/manners

*both of those were out of town and the only place I could find at the time that was offering classes. Logan was 10 months old by then. We took about 75% positive out of there and some not so positive. I have thoughts about the lady lobbing tennis balls at us. lol

3) six weeks basic obedience again in town (it was a pre-requisite for this particular trainer and she meant her basic obedience class.

4) six weeks advanced obedience

*this class was much less structured and controlled. It was alright. Her magic trick was a battery operated cat who meowed, blinked, waved (lol), and swished its tail. Logan for sure thought it was a toy and wanted it. Surprisingly, he's good in the neighborhood with real cats -- they send a message and he gets it loud and clear.

5) tons of training on my end from the get go -- every day in one form or another -- obedience, tricks, etc.

6) agility since November -- we started with private because that is all that was offered for beginners at the time due to COVID. We've been to a group (three dogs) class and Logan did not chase the other dogs. I had him leashed, but he was not lunging. He watched, but we were not right on top of the other dogs. I took him out of the ring to avoid a dog whose owner told me would 100% run up to Logan off leash.

7) Practicing rally along the way

8) We just started competition obedience and the dogs are all more mature than Logan and know they are there to work. Logan appears to be taking cues from them, and also the trainers are friendly, but no nonsense about training which I prefer.

So, I'm sharing all of this to let you know the amount of time that goes into changing the behavior and that there is hope. Logan is also an extremely smart, high energy dog and constantly learning things quickly.

At home work on attention and engagement every day. When we first started agility, Logan was a year old and definitely checked out the ring and sometimes got the zoomies. He's made so much progress. Good luck. Hope is definitely on the horizon if you put in the time and know (figure out) your dog well enough to know what works best for him to improve.

I'm running late -- the only other thing I can think of is to get him out and about in places where you can see people/dogs without him getting so close he practices the over arousal behavior.
 

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Kristy
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I'd back up a bit and work on obedience. She could probably use practice on self control in public - get the exercise down at home and then move to the outdoors to practice. Teach her "place" and be able to send her to her place in the house so she will stay there for a while. Then take the "place" to the park. Build up to her being to settle in place and practice "leave it" etc. Focus on exercises where she has to give you attention in public to earn a good reward, and remember you are going to have to make yourself and your reward more exciting than the people around you. She may not be a great fit for agility yet. I agree with the idea of starting out in private foundation lessons to help her understand how fun the exercises are before taking her to a large group setting. Wait on the large group till she figures out how rewarding working with you in class is - more fun than visiting strange dogs. She is still an immature 18 month old and may need another year till she is more focused. More time with obedience practice and a little less doggy day care may be a good idea as you are feeling stronger. She needs to learn that you are fun and can be more fun than strange dogs. Do you play with a toy as a reward sometimes instead of feeding treats?
 

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I brought my pup home five weeks before covid lockdown. During those five weeks we took her all over town and to puppy socials. I had several lessons with a private trainer. Then covid struck. I did two zoom virtual puppy obedience classes and one indoor zoom virtual agility intro series. I taught her enough for a trick dog novice title. Vala is very smart and can do everything great—when there are no distractions. BUT she is a holy terror in actual in person classes.

We live in the city, so have been sending her to half day outdoor daycare out of the city five days a week for months, and she loves it. All dogs are her best friends. She runs around with them like crazy. So we know she is getting plenty of exercise. She is now 17 months old. We started intro to agility five weeks ago in person. She spends the first twenty minutes sniffing everything and lunging at every dog and human to make friends. They are not thrilled. I cannot for the life of me get her to focus on me. When she finally does, she is brilliant. What can I be doing with her to fix this issue?

I should also say that she is a very high energy performance girl. Despite that, she has an off switch in the house and will lie quietly at my feet while I read or do computer things. I was a pretty high energy old gal myself until a year ago when I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Have done chemo, surgery, radiation, and more chemo now. I am not my old self. But I desperately need to get her to focus on me despite distractions or we won’t be able to move forward In agility.

Help!
I'm sorry for your health issues. I hope you're doing ok.

IMHO a large part of your problem is the daycare. Your dog is used to playing with other dogs, so she sees another dog and thinks she has to play with it. If you can, I'd suggest stopping the daycare for now.

I'd second the suggestion to do obedience classes. Our family's agility dogs always go through obedience classes up to Canine Good Citizen before starting agility. My current golden, Duster, loves rally obedience, so (until COVID) we always took advanced rally classes as well as agility. Obedience truly is the best way to teach focus. Find a teacher who competes in rally or obedience - they will have lots of tricks for you. Some things that worked for us: Teach a "look at me" command. Teach the dog to look up at you while heeling. Keep treats in your pocket and reward the dog for "checking in" at home (i.e. when she comes to you randomly, without being called).

Most importantly, when doing agility, don't try to do sequences: keep the exercises very short (one or two obstacles) and reward extensively if the dog stays with you. What you're trying to achieve right now is focus on you, so work exclusively on that and reward it. Don't try to teach obstacle completion or new commands. Do things she already knows, and reward anything connected with focus on you: e.g. if the dog leaves but then comes back, reward the coming back. When she starts focusing on you a bit more, you can add an obstacle or two to the sequences and build up gradually.

Another thing you might try is to have her chase you. You can teach a chasing game at home, and then transfer it to the agility ring. It doesn't matter if she does the obstacles or not, the important thing is for her to follow you. Reward profusely, make it fun for both of you. Play interactive games in the agility ring: tug is a good one. Play tug, have her drop the tug, then run away from her, and when she follows you, play tug again as a reward. Etc.

If you continue with the group classes, I'd suggest keeping her on a leash or line for now, even during the exercises. Again, your goal right now isn't to learn agility, it's to teach her to stay with you. When it's your turn to do the exercises, take the bars off the jumps and have her go through the wings only (so the leash/line doesn't bring the bar down). If she tries to leave in order to go and visit other dogs, step on the leash. If she tries to sniff, use the leash to pull her away and re-engage her focus on you. Visiting/sniffing are self-rewarding behaviours so it's important to stop them from happening if you can.

For the lunging, you might try crating her while waiting your turn.

Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks everyone. She is crated while waiting her turn in class, and is fine in there. She can do every exercise at home. Once she’s got her ya yas out she is fine in class. It just takes way too long to get her focused when all dogs are out at once.

She is always leashed in class. The overenthsiastic greeting is for all humans everywhere. I sit with her leashed on my front porch with a parade of dogs and people strolling by and try to get her to focus on me instead of them with treats, but even this food-obsessed dog would rather meet a new human than eat a high value treat. I don’t even know if she would notice manna from heaven if a person is near. She strains at the leash to get to them.

I don’t think I could give her adequate exercise without day care. I am 100% sure you are all correct that day care taught her all dogs are for playing with, but I am afraid to give that up, especially when it brings her such joy. I think the best I can hope for is to teach her the difference somehow that performance fields are for work. I am encouraged that she at least does settle down and work in class, but last class she did so only after 10 minutes of me holding her in one place to get her to stop sniffing (I pulled her nose up by pulling collar up) and army crawling (I held her back with all my might so she was crawling in place) as she tried to drag me over to the person of interest at the moment.

I would love more ways to try to practice her focusing on me between classes but with distractions. I like the idea of bringing her bed out and having her lie on it while the world passes by. I will try that first in our moderately distracting small back yard (birds, squirrels, grass to eat) and and then in our very distracting minuscule front lawn.

I have also been trying to practice leash manners, which also requires focus on me, and I have the same problem with sniffing the neighborhood doggie message centers (her, not me). I cross the street when other dogs and owners approach, and I try to get her to sit and focus on me. Sometimes it even works. I have her signed up for a July teenage manners class, too.

Sigh…she is really a great dog. I melt when she gazes at me with those chocolate kiss eyes. If we could conquer this problem all would be well.
 

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I think the book Control Unleashed:
Creating a Focused and Confident Dog by Leslie McDevitt would be really helpful for your situation. I don’t even do agility but I found the concepts helpful in working with my girlfriend’s pet dog, getting her to focus on me.
 

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Kate
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We live in the city, so have been sending her to half day outdoor daycare out of the city five days a week for months, and she loves it. All dogs are her best friends. She runs around with them like crazy. So we know she is getting plenty of exercise.
^^^ If you want your dog to learn how to tune out other dogs while training, you need to stop the above.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Megora, if we stop sending her to her playgroup, how do you suggest I get her enough exercise, given we live in a big city?
 

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Kate
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Megora, if we stop sending her to her playgroup, how do you suggest I get her enough exercise, given we live in a big city?
Obviously you need to get more inventive, do more walks and find places where she can run and get enough exercise.

I just came back from traveling with my mom and 2 dogs and while we technically were not in a big city, you had the same limitations as far as allowing the dogs to have the same outlet for their energy as they do at home where they are off leash all the time.

We visited my sister an hour away from the hotel we stayed at and they have a big field area where everyone is more or less allowed to let their dogs run. It was an hour drive, but worth it for my dogs 2 out of the 3 days we were down there.
 

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We live in the city, so have been sending her to half day outdoor daycare out of the city five days a week for months, and she loves it. All dogs are her best friends. She runs around with them like crazy. So we know she is getting plenty of exercise.
This is a huge part of your problem. You can't compete with a pack of dogs for her attention. Stop sending her there or a pack mentality will be permanently imprinted.
Obviously obedience training needs to be done too.
 
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Kristy
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This is a really great thread, it was a good teaching discussion for me... because of OP having such a serious health issue, I didn't want to say that I thought doggy daycare needs to stop - but it needs to be said and then it's her decision on how to handle things. I really appreciate all the people who responded here - It sounds like we are all mostly in agreement on what needs changed and it's really a matter of Clipper's mom figuring out what she can do with Vala based on health limitations and lifestyle.
 

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I brought my pup home five weeks before covid lockdown. During those five weeks we took her all over town and to puppy socials. I had several lessons with a private trainer. Then covid struck. I did two zoom virtual puppy obedience classes and one indoor zoom virtual agility intro series. I taught her enough for a trick dog novice title. Vala is very smart and can do everything great—when there are no distractions. BUT she is a holy terror in actual in person classes.

We live in the city, so have been sending her to half day outdoor daycare out of the city five days a week for months, and she loves it. All dogs are her best friends. She runs around with them like crazy. So we know she is getting plenty of exercise. She is now 17 months old. We started intro to agility five weeks ago in person. She spends the first twenty minutes sniffing everything and lunging at every dog and human to make friends. They are not thrilled. I cannot for the life of me get her to focus on me. When she finally does, she is brilliant. What can I be doing with her to fix this issue?

I should also say that she is a very high energy performance girl. Despite that, she has an off switch in the house and will lie quietly at my feet while I read or do computer things. I was a pretty high energy old gal myself until a year ago when I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Have done chemo, surgery, radiation, and more chemo now. I am not my old self. But I desperately need to get her to focus on me despite distractions or we won’t be able to move forward In agility.

Help!
Coming late to this thread, but I wanted to echo some of the (great) advice already offered. I have a performance girl roughly the same age and with equally challenging behaviors in group settings, particularly as an adolescent, and focus is just not there. We made it through (in-person) puppy classes, but group training for agility or novice obedience was a constant struggle. I opted out (for now) and my pup is taking private agility classes--and loves it. She is still intact so large-setting daycare is not feasible; she occasionally attends a small group daycare or we organize meet and plays with dogs of similar age. If you hunt around you may be able to find smaller (in-home) settings where your girl can still get social contact and exercise but not pick up pack manners. I am also working with a private trainer on focus and place games, and I spend a lot of time playing tug with her and throwing a ball. I have a second (older) dog, and I have to work harder to get the younger dog to focus on me rather than primarily my older dog.

All the best for continued recovery and becoming a "pretty high energy old gal" again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks for your encouragement Steller. This current chemo is lighter, so I have a bit more energy and strength to work with Vala. It is supposed to be completed on Halloween. I am also being evaluated for a new cancer treatment study that would last an additional two years if I’m approved for it. Ugh. But I am no longer horizontal all day, though not yet very energetic.

In terms of training, here’s where we are now:
1. My practicing getting Vala to focus on me during leash manners practice around our neighborhood is helping her stop pulling and lunging. Those fast-moving leaves are pretty exciting! Birds, too. She’s Far from perfect, but noticeably better. She is not pulling to get at neighbor dogs, but to sniff all the interesting smells. That observation surprised me. I am trying my own clumsy Premack principle: she gets to sniff AFTER she has focussed on me.

2. It has transferred somewhat to intro agility class, where she still has long distracted moments, but not as long as before, and she is doing better on calming down. Once she’s focused on me she works really well. The teacher has passed her into the intro to obstacles class, so her improvement is obvious though still a work in progress.

3. I am setting up some private lessons on the agility field as well.

4. I have purchased Control Unleashed, and so far just trying to bond with her and get her to not be overstimulated.

5. Against advice, I am still sending her with her dog walker. It is the same group of dogs in the same fenced-in field every day, and the walker has told me Vala spends most of her time following him around, not just playing with her doggie friends. I just have no other way to get her the kind of aerobic exercise she needs. It does help her calm down at home, without zoomies. I will just have to try to teach her that there is a difference between working and playing! Maybe she’ll need it less when she is more advanced in agility.

Thanks again to all of you who give your time to advise us newbies.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Update: we had our first private lesson today. It was fantastic. We spent the whole time just having her get out of the car only with permission, go through doors only with permission, and go onto the agility field only with permission. Holy moly! By the end of the lesson she was a different dog. Tomorrow is her first teenage manners class. My homework from today is to keep practicing the skills from our lesson today. I will keep her home from play group on Fridays to continue private lessons. This will be in addition to group manners classes on Saturdays and intro to obstacles class Tuesday evenings.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Second update. Vala is dramatically improving on focusing on me even at agility class, and even at adolescent manners class with teacher dancing in front of her to get her to jump or lunge. I just hadn't been working on it hard enough. She's still not perfect, but I'd been keeping her on leash for the classes, and today at her manners class I took off leash and she still behaved! Hurray!

Thanks you all. You have been a lifeline.
 

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Great updates, wonderful to hear the progress you're making with Vala.

My thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue with your treatment.
 
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