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Hello PF :)

My puppy is about 6 months old right now, we have done two puppy classes so far - puppy level 1 and puppy level 2 at a local positive reinforcement dog training school - each class was 6 weeks long. While Neo is very smart and can figure out and remember cues very easily when he wants to focus and pay attention, we have had issues with him actually paying attention to us in class! I am soon starting a 10 week long beginning obedience class with him at a training school that helps people train to compete in obedience, which is something I maybe want to dabble in in the future. I'm looking to really set us up for success for this class, so I wanted to see if any other poodle owners have any advice for me with the problems I have in classes.

Our problem is that during classes Neo gets quite overstimulated and has trouble ignoring the other dogs and people, as well as the sights and smells of the room, and food that anyone may have dropped on the floor. He will whine and pull on leash frantically trying to get to other dogs. We have worked a lot on having him ignore dogs on walks and he's doing pretty great at that, but it only works at a certain distance. The other dogs in class are way too close for him to focus! His attention span is super short. When he does decide to pay attention, it's often for 2.5 seconds, and when he has finished the cue and gotten his treat, he will immediately blow us off and start looking at the other dogs. This makes "Stay" in class truly impossible because if he doesn't get reinforcement very very quickly and very very often he will give up on paying attention to us and go back to his antics. He also does not settle well. I often found myself looking at the other puppies in our classes with envy while they chilled lying down at their owner's feet between exercises, while Neo was flipping out pulling and whining and pacing.

I have heard from a couple poodle owners on Facebook that I know that they experienced similar things with their puppies. Does anyone here have any advice for working through this challenge? Obviously he's still a puppy and we have a long way to go! I don't expect perfect anytime soon, but would just like to help him learn that he can't play with other pups during classes... and also that chilling for a second won't kill him ;)



Thank you!
 

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I can very much relate! Peggy's by far the most active at our puppy classes, and although she often surprises us with how quickly she learns new things, her attention span at 4.5 months is equally quick!

Are the puppies in your class divided by barriers of some sort? If our trainer didn't use long babygate-type dividers to create clearly defined spaces for each pup, we'd be having much less success. Sure, she'll occasionally hop up on one to say hi to a neighbouring pal, but she can refocus fairly easily.
 

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I can very much relate! Peggy's by far the most active at our puppy classes, and although she often surprises us with how quickly she learns new things, her attention span at 4.5 months is equally quick!

Are the puppies in your class divided by barriers of some sort? If our trainer didn't use long babygate-type dividers to create clearly defined spaces for each pup, we'd be having much less success. Sure, she'll occasionally hop up on one to say hi to a neighbouring pal, but she can refocus fairly easily.
I meant to add that in my original post but I forgot! We actually did use barriers around our station for the last half of the classes we took which were great! Very helpful, although we quickly learned that Neo had no problem trying to A) jump over the barriers B) knock over the barriers, and C) trying to find a gap between the barriers and escaping through that. LOL! He is very determined to get what he wants. Unfortunately our new class will not have barriers, so much more focus will be needed. Eek! I'm very nervous and considered not taking the class for that reason but I figured maybe the challenge will be what it takes for us to actually progress.
 

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I can very much relate! Peggy's by far the most active at our puppy classes, and although she often surprises us with how quickly she learns new things, her attention span at 4.5 months is equally quick!

Are the puppies in your class divided by barriers of some sort? If our trainer didn't use long babygate-type dividers to create clearly defined spaces for each pup, we'd be having much less success. Sure, she'll occasionally hop up on one to say hi to a neighbouring pal, but she can refocus fairly easily.
I meant to add that in my original post but I forgot! We actually did use barriers around our station for the last half of the classes we took which were great! Very helpful, although we quickly learned that Neo had no problem trying to A) jump over the barriers B) knock over the barriers, and C) trying to find a gap between the barriers and escaping through that. LOL! He is very determined to get what he wants. Unfortunately our new class will not have barriers, so much more focus will be needed. Eek! I'm very nervous and considered not taking the class for that reason but I figured maybe the challenge will be what it takes for us to actually progress.
Oh Peggy finds those gaps, too! Ha! It's become a bit of a running joke in class. But honestly, I'd take her curious exuberance over some of the quieter pups any day. Sure they're laser focused on their owners, but (in our class at least) some of them are using that behaviour to avoid frightening stimuli. From a distance it looks desirable, but it represents a whole other challenge.

If upping the value of your treats doesn't work, and your trainer similarly can't get him to focus (ours works magic with Peggy - gives us something to aspire to!) then maybe he's not ready for the next challenge. I believe that everything does eventually click, but maybe not on our desired timeline.

Is there time set aside for free play? In our class, this is typically the last 15 minutes, but one time we did it at the beginning, which was AMAZING because Peggy could focus so much better after. But, as our trainer explained, you don't want to make that a habit. They should see other dogs and think "It's time to calm down, focus, and work" not "It's time to play."
 

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Don't be afraid to repeat the class you are in rather than moving up to a class he isn't ready for. If the barriers in the current class are helping, giving him more time doing something that is working for him will be more beneficial than moving up to something that will just blow his mind so that he is unable to learn anything.

Spending more time on the basics while he is maturing and gaining self control will set you up for success if you decide to compete in obedience, and also in anything else you do with him. Pushing him too fast will leave you with gaps in his understanding which will have to be fixed later on. Yes, poodles learn very fast, but it's not just a matter of learning, it's a matter of gaining understanding and self control, and building you and your dog into a team that can work together.
 

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Don't be afraid to repeat the class you are in rather than moving up to a class he isn't ready for. If the barriers in the current class are helping, giving him more time doing something that is working for him will be more beneficial than moving up to something that will just blow his mind so that he is unable to learn anything.

Spending more time on the basics while he is maturing and gaining self control will set you up for success if you decide to compete in obedience, and also in anything else you do with him. Pushing him too fast will leave you with gaps in his understanding which will have to be fixed later on. Yes, poodles learn very fast, but it's not just a matter of learning, it's a matter of gaining understanding and self control, and building you and your dog into a team that can work together.
This is very good advice but I've already paid for the new class and they don't give refunds, lol! However it's not really up a level, rather it's the first level but at a different training school which is a bit more geared towards people who may eventually want to compete with their dogs, versus my original place which was geared towards pet people. I'm actually hoping that it will do us good because it's a longer course - 10 weeks long as opposed to 6 weeks. The other classes I felt like we were just getting it by the last week!

Hopefully they will have solutions for me. I'm sure that he won't be the first hyperactive puppy they've seen so maybe they have some ideas up their sleeve that I don't know about yet.
 

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Oh Peggy finds those gaps, too! Ha! It's become a bit of a running joke in class. But honestly, I'd take her curious exuberance over some of the quieter pups any day. Sure they're laser focused on their owners, but (in our class at least) some of them are using that behaviour to avoid frightening stimuli. From a distance it looks desirable, but it represents a whole other challenge.

If upping the value of your treats doesn't work, and your trainer similarly can't get him to focus (ours works magic with Peggy - gives us something to aspire to!) then maybe he's not ready for the next challenge. I believe that everything does eventually click, but maybe not on our desired timeline.

Is there time set aside for free play? In our class, this is typically the last 15 minutes, but one time we did it at the beginning, which was AMAZING because Peggy could focus so much better after. But, as our trainer explained, you don't want to make that a habit. They should see other dogs and think "It's time to calm down, focus, and work" not "It's time to play."
We have found that his highest value treat is fish. It works but it's very stinky lol! At least it forces us to stay on top of brushing his teeth ;)

The trainer can always get a fantastic performance out of him! Mostly because he's just looking for attention from anyone in the room BUT us, lol.

There's no play in this class, there was in our other classes. But I'm hoping that that will be good so that he doesn't have the expectation of play distracting him the whole time!
 

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I'm actually hoping that it will do us good because it's a longer course - 10 weeks long as opposed to 6 weeks. The other classes I felt like we were just getting it by the last week!
This is why it is often good to repeat classes, especially with young dogs. In the new class try to keep in mind that you are there not so much learning things as getting him to a place where he can learn. Once he's in that place he will learn incredibly fast, and in fact you will see that he already knows most of it but just wasn't able to perform yet.

Absolutely no play with the other dogs. Not in class, not in that building outside of class, not even outside of the building on the way in. He needs to learn that he is there to "play" with you, not the other dogs. He doesn't even get to sniff noses or meet the other dogs. Puppy classes include a lot of socialization, as they should, but this class is for building you and your dog into a team.
 

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This is why it is often good to repeat classes, especially with young dogs. In the new class try to keep in mind that you are there not so much learning things as getting him to a place where he can learn. Once he's in that place he will learn incredibly fast, and in fact you will see that he already knows most of it but just wasn't able to perform yet.

Absolutely no play with the other dogs. Not in class, not in that building outside of class, not even outside of the building on the way in. He needs to learn that he is there to "play" with you, not the other dogs. He doesn't even get to sniff noses or meet the other dogs. Puppy classes include a lot of socialization, as they should, but this class is for building you and your dog into a team.
Thank you for your advice! I am already prepared to retake this class if needed :) His brain seems to have clicked into place for a lot of things lately and he has been self-settling a lot more lately, so I'm hoping that maybe we will see a difference in classes already now that he has matured just a little more. I will make sure to take it slow and go at his pace!

Yes we already don't greet dogs on leash on walks so I will make sure I am firm about not allowing it in class or nearby the class either, so he doesn't have that expectation. I do think being allowed to play with other dogs for a portion of the other classes was confusing for him. While it was nice to get playtime, it held us back during the actual class time because he just wanted to play!
 

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If you can, contact the teacher ahead of time to make them aware of your problem. An experienced teacher should be able to help you. My experience is there is usually gating separating where people can sit and wait with their dogs and the ring which you will enter to work during class. If he’s not working well in the ring, you should be able to do the class outside the ring where the chairs are if there’s no room to put a gated area for you in the ring. If it’s a real problem you might be better off spending part of the class working on attention while the rest of the class works on heeling or other exercises. My one obedience club has gating along three sides and I’ve seen people take their dogs outside the ring gating especially to practice things like recall so the dog doesn’t learn a recall means they get to run off and visit other dogs.

I echo that there’s nothing wrong with repeating classes. There May be nuanced information you might have missed the first time. As you head towards competition classes you’ll find many people repeat then for a year or two, especially those of us who are new to dog sports.

If he’s really not ready, perhaps this club has another class that’s more appropriate for now.

I’m glad you posted this and are questioning because you are a good handler who wants to set their dog up for success.
 

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If you can, contact the teacher ahead of time to make them aware of your problem. An experienced teacher should be able to help you. My experience is there is usually gating separating where people can sit and wait with their dogs and the ring which you will enter to work during class. If he’s not working well in the ring, you should be able to do the class outside the ring where the chairs are if there’s no room to put a gated area for you in the ring. If it’s a real problem you might be better off spending part of the class working on attention while the rest of the class works on heeling or other exercises. My one obedience club has gating along three sides and I’ve seen people take their dogs outside the ring gating especially to practice things like recall so the dog doesn’t learn a recall means they get to run off and visit other dogs.

I echo that there’s nothing wrong with repeating classes. There May be nuanced information you might have missed the first time. As you head towards competition classes you’ll find many people repeat then for a year or two, especially those of us who are new to dog sports.

If he’s really not ready, perhaps this club has another class that’s more appropriate for now.

I’m glad you posted this and are questioning because you are a good handler who wants to set their dog up for success.
This class is the lowest level at this school so besides it being without barriers, I think that it will be starting from the bottom with things we have already learned, so hopefully it will be okay! I will try to contact the teacher and let them know in advance :) They do have barriers for a seating area so maybe they will let me use that area for practice if needed!

I already anticipate that we will probably repeat this class, they have a CGC test at the end but I don't think we will be able to pass so will probably retake until we CAN pass :) which could take a while!
 

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I agree with Skylar that you should think about talking to the instructor before the class starts, but given that you are committed to the class since you won't get a refund here is what I would discuss with the instructor. Tell them (don't ask per say) that you will leave the training area when Neo goes above his distraction/stress threshold so that you can move him to a lower level of excitement and get him refocused. When you do that do your due diligence on getting Neo resettled and refocused. Play attention games like Look At That and It's Yer Choice. If you don't have attention you shouldn't be trying to heel or anything other than getting focused attention. When I have people who have done our beginner classes I find they often haven't really had enough work on attention. We generally work with them outside the ring until the attention improves. Depending on what's happening my assistant will work with them outside the ring or it may be even that one of us will go to the lobby with them (and that may be for more than one session).


As to dabbling in performance obedience I don't think it is possible to dabble with it and get much success. I think you should go all in for it. You have to build teamwork that is uncompromising. If you can't heel without your dog looking away from you at all you will never have success in a trial environment. Javelin has great exercises but we have struggled with distractions recently and have done a lot of refresher work on ring entrances and movement from exercise to exercise recently. Since we are refreshing rather than teaching him on these things he has gotten orders of magnitude better in just about two weeks. Despite that he had what I consider an epic fail on set up for figure 8 today when he and a dog with her person was going to be a post (not what you would see in a trial but a very good distraction proof). We both took our dogs by the collar and gave them heavy corrections. We then went back to work and had to do some attention tweaking, but in the end he did a really lovely figure 8 even with the other dog still there. Moral of this story is if you want to do performance obedience, you need to be all in (and you have to clearly tell the dog when it is wrong, not just rely on sweetness and light all the time).


A very young dog that is very distractible needs careful handling so as not to make them think it is not fun. It should build a transformative bond between the handler and the dog. If you want to see one pathway to that type of relationship look at this thread. https://www.poodleforum.com/24-performance-agility-obedience-hunting/205393-javelins-road-ring-ready.html
 

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Do you exercise him before class? I would get him fairly exhausted, but not so much that he's too tired to perform. I would also get there early so he can settle in.

My dogs never had this problem; they were always model students. I'm saying that not to brag, but I think it was because they had each other to play with all day. I've noticed single puppies tend to be MUCH more excitable in classes because hey want to play so badly.
 

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Do you exercise him before class? I would get him fairly exhausted, but not so much that he's too tired to perform. I would also get there early so he can settle in.

My dogs never had this problem; they were always model students. I'm saying that not to brag, but I think it was because they had each other to play with all day. I've noticed single puppies tend to be MUCH more excitable in classes because hey want to play so badly.
We haven't tried this because his puppy friends are all a bit far away from us - I am very hesitant about dog parks but I'm going to go scope out a small dog park close to us that could maybe be good. If it is then maybe he can have some playtime before we head to class! You are probably right that he just wants to play - I don't blame him! I wish I could have him play more often but it's so tricky to find good play partners.
 

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If you have concerns about how to do exercise before going to class then the best exercise you could do is brain games, in other words training before training class.
 

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I agree with Skylar that you should think about talking to the instructor before the class starts, but given that you are committed to the class since you won't get a refund here is what I would discuss with the instructor. Tell them (don't ask per say) that you will leave the training area when Neo goes above his distraction/stress threshold so that you can move him to a lower level of excitement and get him refocused. When you do that do your due diligence on getting Neo resettled and refocused. Play attention games like Look At That and It's Yer Choice. If you don't have attention you shouldn't be trying to heel or anything other than getting focused attention. When I have people who have done our beginner classes I find they often haven't really had enough work on attention. We generally work with them outside the ring until the attention improves. Depending on what's happening my assistant will work with them outside the ring or it may be even that one of us will go to the lobby with them (and that may be for more than one session).


As to dabbling in performance obedience I don't think it is possible to dabble with it and get much success. I think you should go all in for it. You have to build teamwork that is uncompromising. If you can't heel without your dog looking away from you at all you will never have success in a trial environment. Javelin has great exercises but we have struggled with distractions recently and have done a lot of refresher work on ring entrances and movement from exercise to exercise recently. Since we are refreshing rather than teaching him on these things he has gotten orders of magnitude better in just about two weeks. Despite that he had what I consider an epic fail on set up for figure 8 today when he and a dog with her person was going to be a post (not what you would see in a trial but a very good distraction proof). We both took our dogs by the collar and gave them heavy corrections. We then went back to work and had to do some attention tweaking, but in the end he did a really lovely figure 8 even with the other dog still there. Moral of this story is if you want to do performance obedience, you need to be all in (and you have to clearly tell the dog when it is wrong, not just rely on sweetness and light all the time).


A very young dog that is very distractible needs careful handling so as not to make them think it is not fun. It should build a transformative bond between the handler and the dog. If you want to see one pathway to that type of relationship look at this thread. https://www.poodleforum.com/24-performance-agility-obedience-hunting/205393-javelins-road-ring-ready.html
Thanks so much for your thoughtful response! You have given me a few great ideas here and a lot to think about. I saw your other response about doing brain games/training before training as well. I will make sure that I work on attention instead of attempting to work through a lack of attention... I think this has been a big mistake of mine so far! Amateur hour over here :) He's my first dog so I have high expectations but my handling skills are pretty lacking lol! I'm slowly learning and while we may never be great at anything in particular, I'm hoping that we can build the type of bond to work together like you talked about! The bond is really my end goal at this point rather than a certain sport or ribbon.
 

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All I can add is that it takes time..lots of patience and time. Otter is 3, and we still have loads of attention deficit,esp if there is a new dog in class (or those infernal Hovawart pups!:aetsch:)

Lots of attention games (Denise Fenzi's books have them),and time and "keep at it"; Otter has been going to classes since 3 months old,save the horrid upstate NY winters, and still has not seen a trial ring. (we may never make it!) The trainers, be they the right ones, should be able to help you through this,but...time is our friend!
 

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I would have similar challenges with my Dalmatian. Who was a great performance dog and loved tracking, rally and tricks.
We had a very long drive to class - over and hour - which would give my little hooligan plenty of time to snooze. I would try to arrive an hour and half earlier - and go for a long long hike. Then we would put in a long practice with the exercise we were supposed to do for that week. In various places around the parking area - closer and closer to the building. I would be careful so he was not totally fried - I was going more for totally focused. Also he did not get fed on class days - any one who has ever owned a Dalmatian (101 Dalmatians" :"I am hungry mother - I really am!") knows that was a big deal. So his willingness to work for the minuscule morsels of food was heightened to say the least... Also at home you may want to lengthen your training sessions. Put some time into "eyes on me". And at class switch it up - interspace things he is really good at with things that are a challenge. Hope some of it helps!
 

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Moni I also often skip breakfast on days I am doing a class or a match or ring rental. And while training I feed pretty cheaply these days. Mostly I play a game/do a trick or such.
 
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