To elicit a behavior from a dog, the dog has to first be aware of a cue or some stimulus, pay attention to it, learn it and then DO it.
This is the general order of how all learning occurs.Photo by Thiago Miqueias
In the world of dog training and canine behaviorists, especially as it relates to trying to teach a dog a new or different behavior, the study of the “distracted dog” is the probable equivalent to the human behaviorists study of “attention.”
Attention and distraction are, obviously, inextricably interwoven psychological phenomenon. To a “distracted dog” two things in the realm of “attention” are happening…
1. He is not paying attention to something that the human may be wanting him to pay attention to, and
2. He is paying attention to something(s) that are distracting him.
For the dog trainer and the canine behaviorist, it is important to work with the dog to encourage him to be able to “pay attention” even through distractions…especially for a working dog or a dog competing in a sport.
Attention is usually seen as having two components: (1) direction (what the attention is on) and (2) intensity (how much mental effort goes into it).
What are some of the factors that should be considered when working with a distracted dog and trying to get him to pay “attention?”
Salience Dogs, like people, can pay attention to more than one thing in their environment and NOT give equal attention to each of those things. For example, a dog in a show ring may be focusing on the liver treat in the handler’s hands, but he is also aware of the dog in front of him, behind him, the dog outside the ring playing with another dog, the people, the flooring, the smells of the hotdogs in the concession stand, etc. BUT he may be paying MORE attention to that piece of food than any of those other stimuli as it, RELATIVE to these other stimuli, has more salience to him. What if the last time the dog was in a show ring, the judge accidentally stepped on his paw, would he find the judge more salient than the liver treat and become distracted by the judge?
Vividness is related to salience, but whereas salience is determined by the relation of paying attention to one object as it relates to all the other objects/stimuli in the environment, VIVIDNESS is inherent in the stimulus itself. What if a dog comes to class and a Pudelpointer (no offense anyone!) attacks him. A Pudelpointer is a dog with a bearded face. So this dog that was attacked by a bearded dog, now is easily distracted when any other bearded dog is near him. It is both salient and vivid to him. The main difference between SALIENT and VIVID is that VIVID information, according to the research, is more easily recalled.
So getting a dog, who is distracted, to pay attention, it may be useful to think about the following:
- What is distracting the dog?/What is the dog paying attention to?
- How distracted is the dog?/How much attention is the dog paying to the thing that is distracting him?
- How salient, relative to all the other things going on, is the distraction (the thing he is paying the most attention to?)
- How vivid is the distraction (the thing he is paying the most attention to?
- Knowing the above, how can you make the distracted dog pay attention using the concepts of salience and vividness?
We have an excellent webinar to help you if you have a distracted dog and want to find ways to get him to pay attention to you:
The Distracted Dog
Here is a sample video from the 60 minute, ondemand class-
The Attention Exercise
Renea Dahms, DipCBST, RMT, an early childhood educator and dog trainer in North Central Wisconsin since 1995, specializes in helping people work with getting their dogs’ attention…Distracted Dogs. She has developed a very down to earth, easy to understand, easy to apply, webinar for us called: The Distracted Dog.