[pictures shared with explicit owner permission]
The ‘check’ exercise features in nearly every puppy lesson at OhMyDog!, where we stage different real-life situations for the pups to learn to deal with.
When it’s been practised to death, it looks like this:
Practice several times per day and your dog will soon see a passing cyclist/horse/etc. as a cue to look back at you and step away from the bicycle.
Congratulations: your dog has learnt to disengage from hyperfocus.
Your dog is now primed to view past-passing objects as a sign to re-engage with you, and to follow you away from the passing person.
You want to work on this exercise like mad with dogs who are obsessed with fast-passing objects like working line German Shepherds or Border Collies, or with scaredy cats: dogs who are scared of unfamiliar, fast.
Important subtlety: do NOT wait until your dog is hyperfocused on the distraction to practice this. When you first start, do this at such a distance from the trigger that you doubt the dog has even spotted it.
If your dog is so ‘magnetized’ by it that he can’t be distracted away from it, you’re actually making things worse. You’re entrenching the habit deeper.
“Watch Me” = “Look at me” vs. “Check!” = “Look at that”
We recommend the “Watch me” as a quick and dirty trick to get you out of a sticky situation: you ask the dog to fix his gaze on you and ignore the fast-passing object. The dog is not getting used to it, but you have a handle on the dog in a pinch.
If you notice that the dog is developing an unhealthy focus for something in particular (be that out of fear, predatory interest or social over-excitement), then it’s worth getting your dog to learn that that particular distraction is a trigger for engaging with you, not the passing object/animal/person.
We like to practice this exercise with all sorts of objects, from someone wearing a motorcycle helmet to a jogger to, yes, someone on a skateboard.
This is me last week. Note how, on one of the pictures, the dog is hyperfocusing. This is a sign that the distance to the object is too small.