I promise I wasn’t boring the dogs with a lecture in this picture. I was just holding the packs focus during a socialising session.
I am regularly asked about how to do this, it is both very simple and very difficult. However, having your dog’s attention is one of the most important and underrated aspects of positive dog training. It’s obvious when you think about it, how can you build your relationship and train your dog, if your dog doesn’t pay attention to you?
Training your dog to pay attention teaches them to be a good student, ensuring that they will sit quietly and wait for instructions, once these foundations are in place, training your dog will become a great deal easier. Later on, we will cover two of the best attention exercises available, which are centred on being a good student, paying attention and awaiting instructions.
The easiest way to see if your dog is paying attention to you is whether or not your dog is looking at you and following everything you do closely. Once you have an attentive dog, this will be very obvious, especially to other family members or friends, who will note that your dog seems to follow you around and work for your attention. However, it is worth remembering that some dogs are discrete, they might not seem interested in where you are or what you’re up to, but the moment you disappear, they’ll appear right next to you. My dog Athos is quite discrete I can be in a separate room working while he sleeps in the bedroom, but the moment he can no longer hear the sound of me typing on my computer, he’ll pop his head around the door to check that I haven’t left out without him. This is attention in a nutshell, when your dog is aware of your movements and what you are doing at any time of day.
You might wonder if this kind of attention is overrated, thinking like this is typical of more traditional or ‘old school’ trainers, who believe you can get better results by forcing your dog to pay attention when you demand it. In my experience, this approach doesn’t work anywhere near as well, there’s a notable difference between a dog who focuses on you because he has to, and one who focuses on you because he wants. The goal of this post is to help you reach a point where your dog is focused on pleasing you, as this is the easiest way of training him successfully.
Many dog owners take a lot of things for granted, too many in fact. When a dog first comes into the home, he relies on us completely, and we have his full attention at all times. After a few weeks, however, your dog will relax into the environment and encounter new, fresh and exciting experiences which are more interesting than you and that’s not good news for your relationship, particularly where training is concerned. By remaining at the centre of your dog’s world, you’ll not only enjoy a stronger bond with your dog, but stand a much better chance of being able to train him successfully.
We accomplish this with consistent training every day. Make training a habit, even just 10 minutes, then it becomes second nature for both you and your dog, ensuring you’ll have the simple basics; sit, come here, down etc. covered quickly and efficiently, allowing you to move onto more complicated actions.
Now that we understand what it means to have your dog’s attention and why having your dog’s attention is so important, we can move onto how to keep attention, along with a few simple exercises you can undertake to ensure your dog is always paying attention to you.
Firstly, when training your dog to pay attention to you, you have to pay attention to your dog, not just physically but mentally. Your dog can read you very acutely, body language and facial expressions is how dogs communicate this means they can tell when you’re sad and when you’re happy, and certainly knows when you are lying and when you are not. By taking an active role in training your dog, you can make the framework very simple, rewarding your dog not only with treats but praise, happiness and love.
Here are three effective ways to train your dog to pay attention to you:
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE 1 – EYE CONTACT
The first exercise is based around eye contact, and is the exercise that teaches your dog to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. Grab some treats and then sit beside your dog, waiting for them to look at you. This requires a bit of patience the first time you train this, but hang in there – it’s worth the wait! Once your dog lifts its eyes to meet yours, praise them warmly and reward your dog with a treat. Then simply keep still and wait for them to meet your gaze again, keep doing this until your dog understands that he will be rewarded for looking into your eyes, and he will be more than happy to do it whenever necessary.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE 2 – HAND TARGETING
Sometimes, you’ll need get your dog’s attention in order to protect them from something that might harm, scare or upset them. Occasionally dogs will become fearful and naturally, will look to either run away or attack, neither of which are desirable or safe outcomes. However, it is possible to interrupt this natural response by training your dog to keep attention on you even in stressful situations. Start in a relaxed environment and put your hand in front of your dog’s face, the palm of your hand an inch or so from their nose. Say nothing, as it is important that your dog learns to make these associations without cues. Once your dog touches the palm of your hand, give a reward in the form of warm praise or a treat. Repeat this exercise, and eventually, over time your dog will come to understand that when your hand is presented, a reward is available by touching it and while focused on you, he will be unable to focus on whatever might be scaring him, allowing you to avoid conflict with others and protecting him from harm.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE 3 – IMPULSE CONTROL
This one is really more of a concept that an exercise, because there are so many variations to work with. Once your dog knows that he should be looking at you as we explain in the first exercise you can use this during training. For example, you can ‘drop’ something on the floor and if your dog tries to grab it, simply cover it with your foot. When your dog then sits and eventually looks at you, make sure to praise and then give the dropped toy or treat. Once more, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with praise and a reward and over time will begin to realise that everything your dog wants can be channelled through you. As far as your dog is concerned, you are the origin of everything that is good in life.
As you can tell from this post, treats are often used as a reward for behaviour we wish to encourage. With this in mind, I suggest altering your dogs food allowance to to allow for lean healthy treats (some dogs enjoy kibble as treats or lean jerky works well for more fussy dogs) . If treats are not withheld, your dog will either lose motivation to be rewarded or simply end up overweight, by rationing them and associating them with good behaviour, you can ensure your dog is healthy and well-behaved.
In summary, the most important, fundamental principle of dog training is attention, both your dog’s and your own. This element of training is under-utilised by most, so make sure you don’t make the same mistake, ensure your dog associates paying you attention with rewards and praise, and you can ensure your training exercises are easy and successful. Effectively, be the most interesting thing in your dogs world.