Dog Training Foundation Friday: Teaching Your Dog To Focus

Attention is at the core of most aspects of dog training

--Want to walk your dog in heel position?

--How about ask him to perform a skill in a distracting environment?

--Come when called?

--Walk off leash?

--Tricks?

--Walk near other dogs/people/bikes/cars?

You'll need to train a solid foundation of attention before you can be successful with any of the above.

Making eye contact isn't always a natural, easy thing for dogs to do. That's what dog training is for! Some dogs are VERY sensitive to it, so go slow and make sure you aren't unintentionally intimidating your dog! If your dog actively avoids eye contact, or you can't remember your dog ever offering it, you may need to start much slower (and of course seek the help of a trainer).

In a low distraction environment (your kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.), gather the following:

--One dog (this is not the time to work two or more dogs, unless they are experienced with the exercise!)

--10 tasty treats (whatever your dog will work for in the environment, could be kibble, might have to be higher value, though)

--Clicker (If you or your dog is clicker-averse, look forward to my next blog about verbal markers)

Sit or stand and say nothing.

Do nothing.

Find your zen place.

Any time your dog glances at you, click and treat. I don't care if it's a quick, barely there glance, just click and treat. Do this 10 times, then take a break. Go about your day, play with your dog, do the dishes, whatever you need to do. Whenever you're ready to train again, grab another 10 treats, and start again. When you're successful in your low distraction environment, move to a different room, and then eventually start practicing in a higher distraction environment.

Voila, you have now started building your foundation. Attention/eye contact is something that I feel a lot of people neglect in their early puppy training. It's not the ONLY thing to practice early on, but I think it's pretty darn important.

People always ask me why I don't use "watch me" or "look at me" as a cue...and these are the same people who are always impressed by the focus I have from my dogs. My dogs assume that if we are in training mode, they should be watching me (and I am very generous with them!). If I tell them "okay, all done", they are free to do whatever. They, of course, know their names and in high distraction times, their name does mean "look at me," but it's important for me to avoid nagging my dogs. I'd rather wait for them to choose to look at me then beg them to! The more they learn that they can make me click by offering attention, the faster and stronger their eye contact is.

Focused dogs!

Focused dogs!

5 Things I Carry When Walking Dogs On Trails

1. Poop Bags: I'll get this one out of the way first.

No one likes doing it. But, if you don't do it, who will? Even if your dog poops off the trail, who's to say that the next hiker, jogger, or dog walker won't step in that spot going after their own dog's poop? Leave the trail nicer than you found it.

2. Treats!

Good stinky treats are an important part of positive reinforcement based dog training! Offering a tasty treat when your dog responds to a cue will strengthen his response and your relationship. Have treats will also give you a way to distract a loose dog if you come across one. Throw a handful of treats at the approaching dog, and while he is searching for the food, make your way down the trail.

3. Water

Carrying water is especially important if you're walking on trails without a known water source or the water source is contaminated or questionable. I have a bottle that the dogs and I share, and I carry a lightweight silicone collapsible bowl for them to use. 

4. Dog deterrent item

This is for those times when you are walking your dog and an approaching loose dog appears threatening or suspicious. Try throwing treats first, but if that doesn't work, or roaming dogs are a problem in your area, consider carrying a small auto-opening umbrella or dog-specific deterrent spray. Desensitize your dog to the umbrella prior to using it. Some dogs may find it startling and the last thing you want to do when trying to scare off a loose dog is scare off your own dog!

5. An Extra Leash

There are two reasons to carry an extra leash when walking dogs. The first reason: leashes break. If my leash breaks, I'll be happy I had a spare! The second reason to carry an extra leash is to catch a loose dog if he seems truly lost (and friendly with my dogs). I've caught and saved more dogs than I can remember over the years!