Sunday, October 16, 2011

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Attention


It's all the rage with school children these days to ensure their attention (ADD ADHD come to mind). There are drugs and therapies and discussions and tricks to get and keep a child's attention long enough to teach him something. There is a key ingrediate that most educators and those of the psychiatric persuasion are missing however. It's not the child's attention that needs to be ensured - it's the child's interest. That interest should be an integral piece of what we consider "attention".

My bent is toward science and math - in school I did not like english and history. Except once, in 9th grade for history and 12th for English. Both times it involved a teacher who put a lot of energy, play, creativity and engagement into the class, into the materials and sought out alternate methods of teaching.

My interest was engaged and my attention ensured by the graphic and creative way both classes were introduced. There wasn't a day that went by that I wasn't learning something new and excited about doing so. I even started writing short stories and studying the history that wasn't taught in school. I eventually became a conspiracy theorist and have never stopped writing.

I still prefer math and science, but now I know how to research, how to write about it and how to gain and keep the interest and attention of those I'm trying to educate, and I have a breadth of knowledge of the past that assists in helping me create the future.

Many times in the beahvior classes that I teach, this lack of attention and interest is very apparent. The dog in question is much more interested in the other dogs, in the smells, in the toys or in treats everyone else has. The human follows along behind the dog, letting the dog create the game, letting the dog set the rules and it's all for the dog. The dog however is on a leash, the human gets tired of being pulled around and pulls back, this frustrates the dog and the human. That frustration can spirl out of control and end in the dog lunging, barking, snapping and creating a commotion. All from a lack of attention and interest in, and from, the human end of that leash.

Getting and keeping your dog's attention is necessary when teaching your dog to do anything. It is also necessary when trying to resolve behavior issues. If your dog is focused on something else, if his attention is distracted from the task at hand, there can be no learning and no change. Having an interest in your dog and paying attention to her communication is just as, if not more, important.

What is attention?

Attention is much more then just looking at you. I could look at you with my eyes but be thinking of the new DVD I just got on TTouch, so unless YOU are truly paying attention, you may think I was being stubborn when I didn't "sit" when you asked. This is the basis of frustration and eventually anger and then abandonement. It started with you demanding the dog's eyes be on you, but without a purpose and without getting the dog's interest and engagement in the activity.

Attention is engagement, focus, interest, affinity and communication. In order to accomplish true attention, your dog must be willing to be in your space and have you in her space (affinity). YOU must be willing to have your dog in your space and be in her space. You must be willing to learn the language of dogs and communicate at the dog's level and with the dog's understanding. Learning human is much harder for the dog, then learning dog is for the human. It can be done, but it takes a human who is first willing to learn dog. You must be willing to engage with your dog and have her engage with you, both physically and emotionally. There needs to be a responsibility and willingness to have this creature as an integral part of your life.

If you aren't engaged, how can you expect your dog to be interested in what you want?

Attention occurs because there is a purpose to the activity that is in alignment with your goals. A dog has goals as well. They are much simpler then ours, and shorter lived, but they are there. True attention aligns your goals with your dog's and true learning and change can occur because both of you are willing participants in the activity.

When we put our own enthusiasm, our own energy and our creativity into communicating with our dogs, both of us learn something, both of us win and a strong bond is built. This is the major building block to gaining your dog's attention. First you have to get his interest by being interested in the process yourself. You have to give of yourself first, before you can expect your dog to care about what you are trying to communicate.

Tomorrow I will discuss some of the ways that you can gain the interest and attention of your dog.

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