Lyra - Environmental Cues (Part 2)

Enough people commented on the first "Environmental Cues" blog post that I'd like to revisit it with a few thoughts.

Each of us is an individual with specific goals for our dogs.  Our dogs, in turn, have different innate tendencies to consider when formulating our training ideas.  We make decisions about our dogs and our training that fit in with our entire life situation.  I know that there are some people who are trying to use my blog to train their dogs, and I think it's great if I might be able to help someone in that way.  But keep in mind that your dog is your dog, not one of mine.  You must adapt everything that I might do to your situation.

I know from experience that one thing I do very well is create handler focus.  If you hand me a rock, I will work hard to have a handler focused rock.  It's what I do.  It's what I love.

What I am not good at....helping dogs feel comfortable in the world.

With those points in mind, the plan I have for Lyra is to differentiate work spaces from exploration spaces. I want her to explore, because I have learned what happens when a dog is too handler focused.  To understand where I'm coming from, see Raika's blog post at:  I believe if I had properly socialized Raika as a puppy - to LOOK a the environment - the issues I had with her would not have developed.  I worked Raika everywhere, all the time.  My mistake.   To avoid that, I am actively encouraging Lyra to look at the world and to engage with it - 100% and on her terms.  And since I don't enjoy that, my husband has been given that assignment.  He likes walking dogs:).  When she goes out with my family, she is not out of control, but she is not asked to work. She acts like a normal puppy.

For my training purposes,  I also need her to be able to work in public and around distractions.  Fortunately, "dog working places" are pretty obvious to both dogs and handlers.  Lots of dogs, ring gates, buildings, training equipment, treats and toys, my demeanor and focus, etc.  When Lyra encounters a place that meets this description, I want her to work.  The sooner she learns to recognize a working space, the easier it will be for me to help her generalize her work.  I do not want to fight with environmental issues (other people and dogs) when I am in a place where she does not need to engage these options.

So I am teaching her that there are two types of environments; those where we work (handler focused) and those where we exist (environmentally focused).  Right now, my husband has done a much better job than I have, so she's too environmentally focused.  I am starting to work on that.

Long term, this differentiation will become blurred.  If she is like my adult dogs (and I suspect she will be), I will turn her into a workaholic.  When that happens, the rules will change.  Anyone can play with her or feed her pretty much anytime, because I will be her priority.  She will choose to work when I ask.

But Lyra is not an adult; she is a puppy who is just learning how to navigate this world of competition obedience and family pet.  Structure will allow her to succeed.  One day I'll realize that the structure doesnt matter anymore, and then the rules will change.

Until then, others dogs and people may not interact with her in working spaces, and I'll leave her to enjoy her socialization in non working spaces without expecting anything in return.

What should YOU do with your dog?  I don't know.  If you were my student, I'd spend a good deal of time getting to know you; understanding your life situation, expectations, goals and tolerances.  Then we'd come up with training exercises and a socialization program that made sense.  As long as you are not hurting another person or hurting your dog, then there are tons of reasonable options, each with possible consequences, both positive and negative.

And of course, I can always change my mind.



Like Cynthia, when my dogs go for walks, we do some obedience work briefly, but mainly I allow them to sniff and be dogs. When I’ve taken them to shopping centers or elsewhere, I again do a combination of obedience work and just sniffing around. I wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do, but I felt I had a better chance of getting a very young sporting dog to focus if it had looked around it’s environment first. When I get to a show or match site, I walk the dog around the rings. No visiting or playing, we simply walk around the outside of the rings. I talk a little to the dog and just let them eyeball the area.

But I’m not a great handler, so I don’t know if my approach is right or not. This part of it feels right to me, that the dog should be allowed sometimes to be a dog.


I try to use different tools in different environments. E.g. my dogs are on flat collars for ‘work environments’, harnesses for ‘whatever’ environments, and a show lead for conformation. It triggers a very obvious switch in my dog’s brain… Especially my young wild child, affectionately ‘Little Miss Scatter Brain’, where she changes to free stacking super star when you throw the conformation lead on her.

I like this so far, but I am always up for a change.


My obedience dogs are definitely my friends and pets, too, and I like to go on walks with them without working. I also like to be able to walk them around a trial environment and let them sniff, then have them work when it’s time to work. So balance is definitely a tricky thing to find. I’m working on it, though.

Ellen Clary

Circumstances (2 dogs with vastly different issues) have made me pretty good at helping a dog be more comfortable in the world. Lots of cheese and a whole lot of patience helps, but the biggest difference making was tuning into what is stressing doggy and controlling the distance to the scary thing. Playing Look At That from a safe distance works well too.


I thought I wanted a dog who was handler focused, wanting to work 24/7 and would work for anything. Yes my dogs are pets but I also wanted a top scoring obedience dog. I focused from day 1 with my BC pup to make sure I was the best thing on the planet. As a pup she was described as likely to bond strongly to an individual or family. She loved her tug and was high drive – well in her own environment. We ran into issues when she decided the world was scary so possibly I didn’t focus heavily enough the socialisation side of the equation.

So we got to 13 or 14 months I had a dog who was technically perfect when it came to obedience in her own environment but when we got in a ring with strangers she crumbled under to much pressure.

We then spent another 8 months building drive – not because she wasn’t driven but I needed drive that was unbreakable under pressure and would carry her through in a trial ring. We got there she started trialling and has been pretty good.

Having said that you take away the drive release and her life goes to bits. She is now fine when she is in work mode but if anything happens to take that work away i.e. dog has been injured for the last 12 months and she starts having melt downs again in real life.

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