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Training your dog means different things to different people. Some people just want a dog who can sit, down and stay.
Other people want a dog who can behave out in the community and go everywhere with them. Some people want accomplished show or sports dogs, or maybe well-mannered therapy dogs. Whatever your ultimate training goals are for your dog, they all start with attention.
Training your dog to pay attention to you during times of distraction or excitement lies at the heart of all dog training. Even the sit, down, stay trained dog needs to work through the distraction of having a visitor to your home, or the ever-exciting delivery person.
Positive reinforcement training is a proven method of training dogs quickly with reliable and conditioned results. By reinforcing the behaviors we want our dog to repeat you will create a willing training partner who looks forward to working develops an eagerness to please.
When I get a new dog to train the first thing I do is begin letting this dog know that I am awesome! I am the source of all good things! Food comes from me, toys are played with because of me, and my attention and affection are doled out by me. All of these things are wonderful motivators for your dog. I use them all to let my dog know that by working with me these things happen all the time!
Conversely, I am aware that if I want to treat these resources as rewards (food, fun and attention) I do not give them out for free. I will ask my dog for even the simple behavior of responding to their name and then give a reward (food, fun or attention) for such an easy behavior. I always acknowledge my dog for looking at me, sitting by me, or walking to me, even if the reward is just verbal praise.
I will not, however, walk up to my dog who is being cute and say “Good dog!” Even though the dog is being sweet/cute/funny, I want to save my attention for the times my dog is doing something I want them to repeat.
I also play games around basic attention skills and keep playing these games throughout my dogs’ lives. The chase game is as simple as calling your dogs name (just say it once!) and running away from your dog. When he/she follows you heap praise and play upon your dog! What a good dog!
This game rewards name recognition, is the beginning of the command “come” and is just plain fun.
Fun games help make you awesome to your dog!
Another easy basic attention skill to teach is the command “watch me”. Simply take a treat between your fingers and let your dog smell it. Lift the treat to your forehead and wait for your dog to look at the cookie. As soon as they do, say “YES!” and give the dog the treat. Repeat this behavior several times with the cookie, and soon you will be able to lift your finger to your forehead without the cookie and your dog will look obediently into your eyes. This is a great skill to teach any dog, but it is especially helpful with easily distractable pups.
Group obedience classes are a great way to work on attention and focus with distractions. Practicing at home in the living room does not offer much opportunity to work with distractions. Learning in a group with a qualified instructor will help your dog learn how to learn amidst distractions. A great place to find a qualified dog trainer is to search the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s website for a positive reinforcement trainer near you.
Deniece Johnson – Owner, head trainer