Teaching Attention

Sometimes dogs are a lot like teenagers.  You tell them to do something and they roll their eyes.  You can almost hear them say, “Yah, whatever.”  A dog in this state is very difficult to teach anything to.

Fortunately, you can teach your dog to pay attention to you and wait with baited breath for your next command.  All it requires is a few really good treats, some exuberant praise, and a little of your time.

When I say really good treats, I do not mean the dog biscuits you usually give your dog.  Cut up hot dogs into bite sized pieces or whatever your dog really likes and isn’t usually allowed to have.  Use these treats only to teach attention and other commands.  That makes them special and adds to the payoff for your dog when he listens to you.

Pick a word that you will use with your dog to tell him to pay attention.  I use “watch me” but “look” or any other word will do.  Go to a quiet place with no distractions for this lesson.  Say your dog’s name, then your attention word.  As soon as the dog looks at you, give him the treat and praise him for being a good dog.  Practice this in three minute increments several times during the day, in several different parts of your house.

If the dog looks at you without a command, you still give him a treat and praise him for being a good dog.  This requires concentration on your part.  Every time the dog gives you a good look, you praise and reward him.

Try to hold the treats up near your face during this exercise so that the dog learns to focus on your face.  You don’t want him to learn to watch your hands.  He needs to watch your face.  Do not reward the dog until he looks at your face.  He will quickly learn to do this.

Now, this is not just a training exercise.  At any time during the day, if you catch your dog looking at your face, you must treat the dog and praise him.  You will know you are doing this right if your dog follows you around watching you.

Phase two of this exercise if to fade out the command and make the dog look at you on his own.  Go to the quiet corner you have been practicing in and hold the treats by your face.  The dog will probably look you in the face.  When he does, give him a treat and praise him.  If the dog has not looked in your face after 30 seconds, give him the attention command and treat and praise him.

When your dog spends much of his time looking at you, you can introduce distractions.  Have a friend stand nearby and call the dog and fuss over him.  Immediately give the dog his attention signal.  When he turns to you give him a treat and praise him.  If the dog is more interested in his friend, you need to work more with him before beginning this phase of training.

This exercise trains the dog to pay attention to you.  The more you practice it, the more you and your dog will bond.  You should practice it throughout the dog’s life to maintain that bond.  An attentive dog is a trainable dog.