November 26th, 2018
Paying attention: What to do when your dog focuses on anything but you
Meet Clyde, a 7 month hound mix who loves to sniff and explore. Curious about all living creatures (and non-living creatures for that matter), Clyde love to watch the squirrels run and the birds fly around the yard. He chases butterflies and bunnies – practically anything that moves – while stopping for the occasional sniff here and there. Clyde thrives on curiosity and has an extremely high prey drive that kicks in whenever he sees anything move by. What can I do to get him to focus on me? How can I get it so that he pays attention to what we are doing?
Have you ever noticed that throughout the day your dog hears many conversations, but not many are geared toward him? He learns that the conversations going on around him don’t require him to pay attention. Therefore, it is important to grab his attention and for him to focus on you, when you want him to. The focus cue is what is used to get your dog’s attention. This will allow him to know that you are speaking to him and will make him more apt to respond to your needs. The goal of the focus cue is for your dog puts his attention on you – and looks at you while doing it.
Let’s try this out!
To prepare for teaching the focus cue, I recommend having the following:
- Treats or something to entice your dog if he isn’t food driven
- An area that is calming with no distractions (can be inside or outside depending on your dog, however for the sake of Clyde’s high prey drive it is recommended to do)
- General knowledge/review of the “heel command”
- put a pea-sized treat in your hand and make a fist (remember you are not bribing your dog, you are merely using the treat as a lure)
- begin to direct your dog into the heel position (quick review: this is when your dog is sitting beside your left – or right – side) by starting with your dog either in front of you or beside you. This is done by using circular motions with your baited hand to move your dog into the desired direction.
- Once he is in the heel position, put your baited hand near his nose so he can sniff. Try not to put your hand too far away from his nose so that he doesn’t have the urge to jump up to reach your hand. If he does jump, walk him back into position.
- After you have him successfully in position at your side and he is showing interest in your baited hand, bring your hand over his head inward and closer to your body. As you bring your hand closer to your body you will try to draw his gaze up to your eyes. (Note: this action must be done quickly and efficiently for your dog to not lose interest. If he does, begin the process over again).
- Next draw your hand to your face, approximately 1/2 an inch away from your body, in front of your nose and under your eyes. The goal is for your dog to follow the lure up your body to ultimately bring his focus to your eyes. In the moment that he makes eye contact with you, say “good” followed by giving him a treat. (Note: try not to make the mistake of saying good when your dog is staring at your hand and not at your eyes. He needs to realize that he will be rewarded only when he makes direct eye contact).
- Continue to practice the exercise from the beginning with him on your left side, until he can complete it at around 95% of the time. If at any time your dog is unable to follow your hand, make sure that you begin again.
Things to remember:
- Start with realistic goals.
- Practice. Practice.
- Patience is vital.
- This cue could be a life saver, especially for pups that tend to wander off or follow things indiscriminately.
If your dog needs a few tries to get it down, that’s ok.
As mentioned, practice and patience will be necessary for this cue. Try to remain positive and optimistic, he will get it eventually! It may take multiple separate sessions for your pup to master this. Make sure to look for signs of stress or disinterest when working on this training.
What does this mean for me?
The mastering of the focus cue can be considered the holy grail of dog training. This “simple” cue will ultimately guide you in all other trainings, allow you to better manage your dog, and potentially save yourself (and him) from situations of risk or danger. The more time you spend positively building a relationship and working with your dog, the easier your life will be with ridding unwanted or undesired behaviors.
Well done! Keep up the good work! You’re well on you way to being a basic obedience training star!