Lil practicing Forward Focus with choices.

I woke up wondering how “Forward Focus” might be useful beyond traditional Start Line Stays and Freestyle, so this morning I set up a couple of simple sequences that allowed me to ask my dogs the following questions:

1) Can you look where I’m looking…and pointing with my body language vs. look at the obstacle I’m standing closest to, or behind, even if that obstacle is a tunnel?

2) Can you perform 180 turns away from me and a tunnel, and run through a sequence of hoops behind you, with me standing next to or behind the tunnel?

Lil and Jake answered YES to all the challenges I presented them with.  I think Australian Terriers are exceptionally smart but I also think dogs naturally look where we are looking (and where we are pointing towards with body language) so it’s just a matter of rewarding their natural response to look where we are looking enough times to be able to then use Forward Focus to enhance the performance of what many would call “challenging” behaviors.

An added benefit of practicing Forward Focus with choices might be for dogs who like to decide for themselves what the opening sequence is vs. waiting for their handlers to show them the correct opener.  I suppose another benefit could be for dogs who self-release as soon as they focus on what they think is the first obstacle.  Regardless of those benefits, I see this game as another fun way to reinforce solid Start Line Stays while upping the ante in new and unexpected ways.

Forward Focus at the Start Line

A one minute video about the advantages of training Forward Focus for start lines in agility. Although I initially trained this behavior for Freestyle, I often ask for it at the start line while waiting for the judge to say Good Luck.

It’s also great for proofing start line stays because many dogs break their stay as soon as they look down the first line of obstacles and anticipate being released.  I see it as a great test of impulse control:  Can my dogs look down a line of obstacles in front of them, while I lead out… yet continue to wait until released.


Huge progress with “Forward Focus.” Lil is now able to focus forward on nothing (in partcular) and with a little more duration.

In this session, Lil is practicing “forward focus” while looking at nothing (in particular).   In the past couple of days she has begun to offer the behavior in her day-to-day life (which I’ve been rewarding) and is able to hold “forward focus” for a bit longer.   She is one smart little girlie!

For non-dog training fanatics, this video might be like watching paint dry but this is a very complex trick to train. Dogs have zero natural incentive to look at nothing so the fact that Lil is willing to stare into the distance for even a moment or two means she understands what I am asking of her and she trusts that she will be rewarded even if she cannot see me when she is doing the behavior.

Combining “eye gaze” and “forward focus” games

Let me start by stating how much I dislike ice.  Snow is fine, but a thin layer of snow over a thin layer of ice is not what I call fun.    As a result, I’ve been trying to come up with interesting new indoor games to play with Jake and Lil for 3 days in a row.   More than anything my dogs need mental stimulation, so I’ve been combining variations of “eye gaze” and “forward focus” games with the goal of training a new cool looking freestyle trick.

The thing you cannot see in the video is that I am looking forward (in the direction I want my dogs to look)

Practicing “Forward Focus”

If you live in the Northeast, you learn to dread the term “wintry mix.”  Well, that is what happened overnight and now we have a thin layer of ice on top of 1/2 inch snow.  YUCKO!  I didn’t intentionally train Jake and Lil to understand what I mean when I say EASY or CAREFUL but luckily through sheer repetition, they both  know what those words mean.  Both dogs made it safely down (and then back up) the steps to the yard this AM.

I’ve not been video taping training sessions lately but I was inspired to pull out my video camera in order to capture a couple of training sessions with Jake and Lil practicing “Forward Focus” to share with a friend who wants to train her dog to look forward vs. at her.

(video above) I didn’t initially use a Manner’s Minder to train Forward Focus but thought it would be an easy way to do it.  I also thought using a platform would make it easier for a dog who was just beginning to learn this skill to WAIT before being released.

(video above) The next day I used a toy instead of the Manner’s Minder and moved to a different location in the living room.  I decided to include all repetitions so my friend could see that it is OK to make mistakes as long as we get it right more often than not and are fair to our dogs when we screw up our training mechanics.   I think Jake and Lil are quite forgiving of my screw-ups and are happy to keep playing with me.

The second video is long, so you may want to skip ahead to 6:35 where Lil does a few 180 turns away from me and waits while looking forward, before I release her to a ball tossed over her head.  This was the freestyle trick that inspired me to train “forward focus at nothing” in the first place.

One more quick note:  The reason I kneeled down for some reps was to change the “picture” my dogs see when lining up at my side.  For me, the benefit of kneeling is to experience what it would be like to work with big dogs, whose mouths are right there for easy feeding vs. way down near my feet.  It sure makes delivering rewards easier.