Free Tips

Attention: build it, value it

Why train it?

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Because getting your dog’s focus with a single effort is very useful. You can distract him from enticing trash in the street, for example, or keep his eyes on you when walking past another dog. You can more easily get your dog to come when called if you can get his attention. Plus, dogs that are rewarded for paying attention do it more. And attentive dogs are easier to train.

A gateway to self-control

Exercises 1-4 progress from most simple (for dog and human) to most difficult. The more difficult exercises install more self control in your dog. Depending on the difficulty of a given environment, you might decide to gather your dog’s attention in different ways. Work on each exercise in five different locations to make sure your dog can respond to his attention cues in new places and with new distractions.


How to teach it:

Exercise 1. Watch Me: Start with a treat held right at your dog’s nostrils, then draw it to your face, holding it between your eyes. If your dog looks at your face, click and treat. Progress to adding the verbal cue, “Watch Me” when you can make the movement without food in your hand.

Exercise 2. Helper Sound: Use an interesting noise to cause your dog to look at you. Click and treat.

Exercise 3. Name Recognition: When your dog is looking at the environment, say her name cheerfully only once. Click and treat when she looks at you. If she doesn’t, use a helper sound, then click and treat.

Exercise 4. Voluntary Check-In: In a low-distraction area, stand still and quiet. Wait for your dog to voluntarily look up at your face. Click and treat. To add difficulty, add distractions or movement, or play the game in different positions (sit/down/left heel/right heel).

Important Tips:

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You will need to teach all humans around your dog to minimize over-use of her name. You really, truly CAN wear out a dog’s name! We are teaching her that her name has value, so using it unnecessarily often undermines this process.

Balance the value of your treat against the value of the nearby distractions. Use simple dog food if no one’s around, and high-stakes cheese or liver in the face of squirrels or other dogs!

Distractions can help or harm this process. Always start at a distance from your dog’s distractions. It should take less than 3-5 seconds to gather her attention. If it takes longer, move further from the distractions and try again. If she’s staring incessantly at you, work closer to the distractions.

Why your dog doesn't come when called...

Is it an attention problem or a motivation problem? 

Springtime is here and most of us respond to the warmer weather by taking our dogs out more often. If we are lucky, we get to take our dogs to places where they can run around off-leash and truly indulge in their ultimate dog-dom. Before summer hits full-swing, spring is a perfect time to spiff up your dog’s ability to come when called. But what if he doesn't come?

Do you have an attention problem or a motivation problem? 

There are two main components of a successful recall: your ability to get your dog’s attention and your dog’s interest in returning to you. We often focus on one of these components and neglect the other. These are two sides of the same coin, and to truly have the best recall, we need to strengthen both independently. 

If your dog doesn’t even turn around to look you when they hear “Come!” you have an attention problem. If your dog turns to look at you, but doesn’t move toward you, you have a motivation problem. 


Can you get your dog to stop and look at you from 50-100 feet away? 

Can you get your dog to stop and look at you from 50-100 feet away? 

Name recognition is the first step to a solid recall. Obedience classes are full of attention exercises, only trained on a 6-foot leash, so many people think they have name recognition when they really don’t. By practicing it daily, in varying situations, and always pairing with high-value rewards, you can truly build reliability and value in name recognition in ways that will benefit a solid recall. This is important because almost all recalls happen when the dog is off-leash and more than 6 feet from you. 

Ways to practice attention for recalls:

  • Dog is stationary, 10 feet from you.
  • Dog is stationary, 20-50 feet from you.
  • Dog is stationary, 100 feet from you.
  • Dog is stationary and sniffing
  • Dog is facing away, moving slowly. 
  • Dog is facing away moving quickly. 
  • Dog is running full speed
  • Dog is engaged in play/interaction

    These are often ways that we want to practice our recalls, but it’s an important way to practice your dog’s name recognition. Calling a dog can often put a dog into conflict, since we are calling them away from something they are interested in. Focusing on rewarding name recognition before calling the dog allows us to build value in turning to look at you for more information. This behavior will ultimately benefit our recalls, and it doesn’t put the dog into conflict because you’re not asking him to leave an interesting activity. In training terms, this is called splitting criteria. We are separating the goal behavior into small attainable pieces and training those pieces individually. 

Does your dog run to you full-tilt when they hear the word "Come" ? 

Does your dog run to you full-tilt when they hear the word "Come" ? 


So now that your dog is responding to his name in distracting situations, we need him to come running at full speed when he hears “Come!” Resolving motivation issues can drastically improve recall issues, so it’s important to know why you might have a motivation problem. Oftentimes students wait until their dog is at the dog run to practice their recalls, and this automatically puts the dog into conflict: Should I come to owner or play with friends? Starting with lots of practice in easy environments and high-value rewards will reap the most benefits, since it minimizes conflict. Also make sure to only furnish rewards after your dog has come to you, not showing them the treat or toy first. Think paycheck, not bribe. Plastic treat-baggie sounds and hands that hover near treat-pockets are bribes, and it will hurt your dog’s recall reliability if they get tuned into it before actually coming to you. 

Reasons your dog isn’t motivated:

  • Your rewards are low-value 
  • Not enough daily practice
  • Over-use & desensitization of recall word
  • Compliance leads to something dog dislikes (ie: leave dog park, come in house, give up sock)


Next time your dog doesn’t come to you, diagnose the issue by deciding if your dog had trouble with attention or motivation. This will help you focus your next training session and you’ll be well on your way to better recalls! 


Teach your dog to trim his OWN nails!

Does your dog dislike nail trims?

Here's a great winter project for you: teach him to trim his own! This is great for easy maintenance of his front paws; it's fun for both of you! And if you're really talented, you can teach him to scratch his back ones too! 

Learn more! 

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“Lab-a-Gator" "Doodle-gator”

Are these new and upcoming dog breeds? Has the public truly lost their mind by demanding some crossbreed between an domestic dog and an alligator? Rest assured, there is no new companion animal showing up in the pet stores that has scales combined with cute floppy puppy ears, curly tails, and requires a kiddie pool instead of a dog crate.