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Anatomy of Attention: When VAN Ran Over DAN and Other Distracting Tales

May 24

10:00 am PT


In the dog training community, a great deal of effort goes into teaching dogs “attention.” But what does that mean? Staring into the handler’s eyes? Moving in an abnormal position gazing at a toy? Ignoring all distractions? Maintaining focus? Working for hours on end? Be willing to eat all the chicken and cheese we dole out? Is a dog’s attention span based on his age, sex, or breed?

However we may define it, here’s the reality: We can get frustrated and confused when a dog doesn’t (can’t?) focus, or won’t give us his attention no matter how much we know or how good our timing may be. We’re smart trainers, so we know it’s not dominance or being stubborn or blowing us off but sometimes, we’re left scratching our own heads and asking, “What’s really going on in that dog’s head?”

Let’s take a deep dive into Attention, which is an awfully big, vague label for many complex interactions and networks in the mammalian brain. At any given moment, a dog’s brain (like yours!) is juggling:

  • different types of attention
  • alertness and arousal
  • sensory sensitivities and deficits
  • internal and external factors
  • focus and distractions
  • individual attention span

Understanding what’s at work in that canine brain (and your own, and your clients!) helps you make good choices for the dogs in our hands. We’ll look at:

  • the 4 main functions of conscious attention
  • cognitive resources – expending a limited commodity
  • how expectations and salience affect attention
  • what captures attention?
  • temperament and sensory awareness
  • to Carnegie Hall and beyond (the value of practice)

When you are clear what factors may be at work with any individual dog, it becomes easier to select appropriate techniques, use thinner slices, shift your expectations or simply help the handler see what the dog is saying and doing.

Armed with an understanding of the anatomy of attention and the individual dog, we can align our goals and expectations with who that dog truly is. When we know how to engage the astonishing power of intrinsic motivation, we can —– SQUIRREL! (Just kidding…unless you are really into squirrels?) — make the most of every dog’s capacity for attention.

Presented By:

Suzanne Clothier

Suzanne Clothier has been working with animals professionally since 1977, with a deep background of experience that includes obedience, agility, puppy testing, breeding, conformation, instructing, kennel management and Search and Rescue.

She has taught across the US and internationally for groups as varied as University of Minnesota’s SPEAK! conference, Wolf Park, FEMA-Northeast Region Disaster Dog Teams, Alaskan Dog Musher Association, APDT, and Assistance Dogs International. She has taught for training groups, rescues & shelters, veterinarians, breeders, national conferences, and Search & Rescue organizations.

Suzanne’s seminars reflect the breadth and depth of her experience, covering a broad range of topics from early puppy development to aggression, fearful/anxious dogs, behavior, athletic performance, the animal/human bond and more. Whatever the topic, the focus is always on humane, effective and practical application of her Relationship Centered Training™, her holistic approach to dogs and the people who love them.

Her book, Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs (2002, Warner Books) has received wide spread praise from every corner of the dog world. Ahead of its time, Bones spoke specifically to the important of relationship as the foundation of all, and has been selected twice for the Wall Street Journal’s list of Top 5 Dog Books. She is the author of numerous videos, books, booklets and numerous articles on a broad range of topics.

An innovative trainer, she has developed multiple programs and tools:

  • CARAT™ (Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool) – temperament assessment
  • RAT™ (Relationship Assessment Tool) – assessment of the dog/handler relationship
  • FAT™(Functional Assessment Tracking) – tracking functioning on cognitive, social & physiological dimensions
  • The Enriched Puppy Protocol™ (EPP) – early developmental enrichment from birth to 16 weeks
  • Clothier Puppy Test, Clothier Adult Test, including a formal In-For-Training (IFT) test for use in guide/service dog schools.
  • Connection, Cooperation & Control (CCC) – With trainer Cindy Knowlton – program for developing & improving the handler/dog relationship using puzzle-based rewards.

She served as a committee member for AKC Agility Advisory Board, and the American Humane Association Task Force for the Development of Humane Standards in Dog Training. She has served as a consultant to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Assistance Dogs of the West, and Guide Dogs of America.

A German Shepherd breeder, 10 generations of her Hawks Hunt German Shepherds have been successful in obedience, agility, SAR, tracking, nosework, herding, therapy work and as guide dog breeding stock. She lives on a working farm in upstate New York with husband John Rice, and their considerable animal family of dogs, cats, parrots, tortoises, Scottish Highland cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs & chickens.