Do you have a distracted dog? It takes some time and patience, but it’s not so hard to train them to want to pay attention.
People often tell me that when there are distractions, their dog doesn’t pay attention to them, won’t come when called, won’t sit when told to, etc. One of the main games I play with my dogs, and with dogs I am training, is to teach THEM to offer attention. I don’t want to nag or beg the dog to pay attention to me, I want the dog to be the one checking in.
This is a basic foundation skill, not one you just play at the dog park.
To start teaching this skill, have some cookies or a toy on you, but do not engage your dog. When he looks at you, say ‘yes’ or click if using a clicker, and reward your dog with a cookie or a game of tug. If your dog is glued to you because you are super awesome and he knows you have cookies and his fave toy, toss a cookie away and tell your pooch to go get it. After he eats it, he will likely come looking for you again. As soon as he looks at you, say ‘yes’ or click and reward. Repeat. It’s that simple.
- If your dog is easily distracted and just learning this game, hold the leash in the middle, not at the end. Your dog can EARN the length of the leash by being attentive.
- Your dog will learn faster if you have A+ rewards like chicken meat, little bits of steak, etc.
- If your dog simply stares at you waiting for the cookies, be sure you are not standing there with your hand in your pocket or cookies in your hand. This is called ‘luring’ or bribing your dog – and it doesn’t work! The cookies or toy should be in a pocket or bait pouch and your hand should not reach for the reward until AFTER you say ‘yes’ or click to mark him looking at you.
Put your dog on leash. Hopefully he is well mannered and sits politely for you to open the front door, if not, work on that! =) When you give him permission to exit the house, take a step outside yourself and wait. How long will it take for him to stop pulling on the leash, scanning the environment, and look at you? Just wait!
Resist the urge to call his name, make little chirping noises, or jiggle the leash. Put the ball in his court. Nothing fun will happen until he looks at you. When he does, say ‘yes’ or click and reward with a super awesome reward. You might not want to start walking yet. Repeat this game, waiting until your dog stays focused on you, then start walking. If he immediately races to the end of the leash distracted by the world, simply stop and wait.
We go for walks together, mentally in sync.
Make this game a way of life.
This is one of my foundation games for any new puppy or dog. Everywhere we go, everything we do – we play this game. Gradually play this game in more and more distracting environments. Play this game before you let your dog off leash to run in a field, visit doggy friends, etc. Make offered attention how your dog EARNS the things he would like in life.
Once your dog is a pro, you can ask for more – attention AND a nice sit by your side… but don’t ask for calculus before you have taught Kindergarten!
Check out some of our other foundation skills: