Sunday, August 29, 2010

CU Seminar: Reorienting

This dog does a great job of reorienting to Alexa.
Photo by Robin Sallie

One of the first exercises we worked on at the Control Unleashed seminar was reorienting. Although Leslie talks about reorienting in the book, I’ve never really thought about it as a CU exercise, mostly because it is deceptively simple. Simply put, reorienting means that any time your dog passes through a boundary- a door way, coming out of his crate, walking into the obedience ring- he should turn to sit in front of you, all while making eye contact.

There are lots of benefits to teaching a dog to reorient. It creates a routine for the dog, which pretty much all dogs like. For reactive dogs, though, it creates a sense of predictability, and helps them know both what to expect, and what is expected of them. This relieves some of their anxiety.

Reorienting also teaches the dog impulse control; instead of rushing off to check out the exciting new environment, the dog learns to contain himself and check in with you first. This, in turn, leads to increased team work and attention to the handler- skills we definitely want in our performance dogs!

Finally, reorienting helps mitigate some of the sudden environmental changes that happen when you move from one location to another, largely because the dog becomes patterned to look at you automatically instead of scanning the environment for a potential trigger.

Ironically, after Alexa discussed the value of reorienting at the seminar on Saturday, I experienced first hand how valuable reorienting can be. Maisy and I were walking out of our hotel room, and as we headed into the hallway, an older man was walking towards us. Because Maisy has not learned to automatically reorient to me, she shot to the end of her leash and barked and growled. She was truly over threshold; nothing I said or did was able to get her attention. Although I’m quite sure she would have been nervous about the man no matter what, I believe that if she’d been conditioned to automatically turn to me, there is a decent chance I could have prevented that reaction. Needless to say, I’m going to teach Maisy to reorient!

So, how do you teach reorienting? Alexa had us start with the dogs exiting their crates. In turn, we each opened the crate door and fed a constant stream of treats as long as the dog remained inside the crate. If he tried to exit without a release cue, we calmly shut the crate door and then tried again. Pretty soon, we had a group of dogs that really enjoyed being in their crates! This step helped create some impulse control in the dogs.

Next, we stood next to the crate so that we were facing the same direction as our dogs, and called them out. As they did, we watched for the tiniest movement in our direction. Even an ear flick or a slight head turn earned the dog a click and treat. Each time, we waited for a little bit more of a turn in our direction. It really didn’t take long for the dogs to rush out, make the u-turn towards us, and plop down, watching us expectantly. (The sit, while not necessary, is nice. It is an added demonstration of self-control, and it also means that if your dog is feeling especially wild, you have a better chance of catching him if he's loose.)

Astute readers will notice that we didn’t give any cues, verbal or otherwise. We didn’t ask them to “wait” before getting out of the crate, and we didn’t call their name or otherwise ask them to pay attention to us. This was a deliberate choice, because we want the dog to learn to reorient to us based on environmental cues. The cue to seek out the handler is the transition from one location to another, not anything we said or did. This gives the dog the ability to think and make the right choice, which creates both confidence and self-control. It also means that you don’t need to be constantly nagging your dog with commands, something that I find mighty appealing.

Once the dogs were easily reorienting while coming out of their crates, we worked on reorienting while walking into a box made out of ring gates. Again, the process was similar. We would approach the opening to the ring, and stop and wait. Some dogs automatically reoriented, while others would take a few moments before they turned back towards their handlers, impatient about the lack of movement. At the first sign of turning towards us, we clicked! We repeated the process again as we moved through the gate into the interior of the ring. After only a few repetitions, the dogs were offering up the reorienting behavior on their own.

This is something that would be easy to practice at home. Practice it when your dog comes out of his crate, as you let him into the back yard, or as you go through the gate to your fenced in yard. All of these are pretty low-distraction environments, so it should be easy for your dog to learn. Once he gets good at the game, you can make it more challenging by putting a toy or bowl of treats on the other side of the boundary.

Reorienting a simple behavior, but it’s a powerful one, too. Like I said, I’ll definitely be working on this one with Maisy. But I want to hear from you guys. Have you taught your dogs to reorient? Has it ever helped you and your dog? I’d love to hear your examples!


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

With all the dogs at work I teach them a "go through" which is basically they always have to wait at doorways and then on cue go ahead of me and come to front. It is eventually used as one option for the wheelchairs where dog goes through, then backs up. But I love that is really is reorientation so the dogs are always paying attention.

With my own dogs I don't specifically teach this as a separate skill. I expect all my dogs to focus on me anytime they are on leash. We do not move if I don't have their attention, although it doesn't have to be that unwavering eye contact.
I don't always stop at door ways and then I would expect moving attention. If I do stop, then I want that attention in either heel or front. So I suppose that I have taught this to my dogs as they all do it. I just never really thought about REorientation as a goal, just the orientation part :)

Cinnamon said...

Thank you for another good reminder! Although I had watched a video of Leslie teaching this reorienting exercise, I was always using some kind of verbal commands to make my dogs reorient to me when going through a gate or in other situations where they enter a new environment.

Has this exercise worked for us? Well, yes and no. My dogs do it without problem in undistracting situations, but Cinnamon still tries to dash out of the gate if she hears or smells another dog passing by. However, I will continue to practise it, as I think this exercise does help my dogs learn to control their impulse.

Cinnamon's mum

Kristen said...

This sort of thing is something I've thought "Maybe I should be doing... but does it /really/ matter..." And so I continued to let my dogs rush out of the crates or car or doors and pull while going into the training building.

Since re-reading and then watching CU materials...I've been requesting a bit more self-control. I'm not as diligent as I should be... but we've been putting an effort into it!

Crystal said...

Kristen, I know what you mean... I did that for a long time. Then I decided I wanted more self-control, but I asked for it. I ended up feeling like I was nagging Maisy constantly. I really want her to do it without me constantly reminding her, which is why I like the idea of "environmental cues."

Sara and Layla said...

Yes, we reorient. Every time we go from a less-exciting space to a more-exciting space, I stop and wait. I never cue it. Sometimes it takes a long time for the dog to respond (like walking out the front door when there's a squirrel sitting on the lawn). But it is SO worth it!

Here's the thing with reorienting: it will become habit for you too. I don't even think about it anymore, I just step through the doorway and pause until the dog makes eye contact. Even if I'm handling a totally naive dog who's never had a day of training in his life, I do this. If you're consistant, dogs get it very quickly. And YOU won't be able to help it, because it will be engrained in you too!

When I take Layla to the training center now, I can't even get the door open before she's twisting around in mid-air to stare lasers at me. Half the time, her butt ends up hitting the door because she's so enthusiastic and I can't open it fast enough. She knows that the only way to get into the training center is by looking at me, and she's motivated to get inside as quickly as possible! It always makes me smile, and bystanders oftentimes burst into laughter at her mid-air pirouttes.

Crystal said...

Ha! Sara, that story about Layla twisting in mid-air at the training center is hilarious!

The part with reorienting that I'm struggling with is every day life. I certainly don't ask her to reorient when I let her out to go potty... and I'm sure that slows down our training. But it's hard to care at 6am. (Bad trainer!) I also have a husband I have to train...

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I just wanted to add that I don't necessarily worry about this in everyday life. I don't need my dogs to reorient to me when let for their potty breaks and I don't think it interferes with them doing it elsewhere. My rule is basically if they are on leash I expect a certain level of attention and that implies reorientating. But off leash they are (usually) off the clock and free to do what they want unless told otherwise.