Why train it?
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).
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.