Recently I asked a dog trainer to give some advice. I asked, “What is the most important dog training tip that you give to all your trainees?” Without hesitation she said, “You need to know how to get your dog’s attention. The most important part and the basis of all training is the ability to get and keep your dog’s attention. I can’t overstate how critical your dog’s attention is for training.”
Her advice is not an understatement. Getting your dog’s attention allows you to better control a situation, helps you to train your dog so they are obedient, and helps you protect your dog when it is necessary.
How to Get Your Dog’s Attention
Dogs, especially puppies, can be hyperactive and distracted very easily, especially when things are new and exciting. They love to explore, greet people, sniff around and run. All of which are great, except when they are too distracted to listen to us. The reality is that at those moments, a dog views their surroundings as more exciting and better than what you have to offer. It is a challenge to even know how to begin training a dog, let alone how to get your dog’s attention, when that is the case.
So how do you get your dog’s attention? First things first. Before anything else, you need to find something that your dog views as more rewarding than his/her surroundings that you have to offer. For many dogs, it is food or treats. For other dogs, it may be a favorite type of toy (ball or squeaker toy) or it may be lots of praise, or all three. Your role is to find out what it is for your dog.
Once you’ve discovered what your dog responds to, getting their attention is much easier. When dogs understand there is something in it for them, it is amazing how quickly they learn to give you attention and learn what you want to teach them.
Step One: How to Teach Your Dog to Look at You
You know that your dog is paying attention to you when he makes eye contact with you. Therefore, step one of the training process on how to get your dog’s attention is to train them to make eye contact.
Choose a word or short phrase that you will use as the command, such as “look” or “watch me.” Begin training in a quiet area that has very few distractions for your dog. This often is a place in your home. Next, hold a treat or his favorite toy next your face, call his name, and wait until he looks at you. As soon as he makes eye contact with you, give him the treat or toy and praise him. You may also use the clicker as soon as he makes eye contact if you are working on clicker training.
Many dogs will respond when they hear their name. However, if your dog does not respond immediately to their name and the “look” command, you may have to get their attention in another manner. You can wave the treat or toy right in front of your dog’s nose to get their attention and then pull the treat or toy up to your face. Your dog will follow the treat or toy and end up looking at your face. As soon as they look at you, praise them and give them the treat or toy.
You always want to end on a positive note, so keep your sessions short so that your dog is focused the entire time. Stay consistent and enjoy the bond you are creating. Your dog will quickly learn to pay attention to you in this environment.
Step Two: Getting Your Dog’s Attention with Distractions
The next step is to move outside, but still in a confined space that your dog is familiar with, such as your backyard. Just be moving outside, you are putting your dog in an environment where there are many more distractions- birds, wildlife, cars driving by, noises, neighbors, etc. Again, you want to teach your dog to look at you despite all of the distractions. You may want to begin training outside on a dog leash so that your dog is closer to you so that you can wave a treat in front of them to get their attention. Use the same training as in your home. As soon as he or she looks you in the eye, give them the treat or toy. Eye contact means that they are listening despite what is going on around them so always give them lots of praise.
Step Three: Practice, Practice, Practice
Continue practicing with your dog. Practicing every day will reinforce their positive behavior. Your dog will learn to stop whatever they are doing, ignore distractions and focus on you. Work your way up to new surroundings- switch from the back yard to the front yard, visit a park, etc. If your dog gets too distracted to listen, you are moving too fast so just go back to where they last succeeded and try again. Be patient. You always want to end on a positive note. You want the training to be fun for you and your dog. If you find you are losing your patience, stop and start another day.
Once you know how to get your dog’s attention, you can expand your training sessions to include other basic commands. You will be amazed at the bond you will share with your dog by training together, as well as the respect they will have for you as their leader.