Attention occurs when the dog is alert to his name and “answers” to it with his full attention when you say it. Focus occurs when the dog remains attentive to you with distractions, in a variety of environments.
Attention and focus training are the foundation for any good dog training program. After we establish rock solid attention and focus with distractions present, we will have much better success teaching a rock solid recall, heeling on leash, trick work or any distance behaviour. We can’t teach the dog anything if we don’t have their willing and complete attention. We want the dog to prefer to pay attention to us than to other things in his environment.
Keys to teaching a dog to pay attention to us under any circumstances?
Use tiny really high value rewards and plenty of praise at first.
Break paying attention to you down into identifiable baby steps and wait until he offers the behaviour at each step reliably before you proceed to a more demanding step. Here is what I do:
Mark, Reward, and praise the dog for turning his head toward you at first.
Repeat 10 times.
Now up the ante: The new criteria to get a reward becomes looking at you
Mark, reward and praise for any eye contact. If you have a shy or nervous dog, you may need to repeat the first step more.
Repeat 20 times.
Say his name in a happy voice
Repeat 20 times every day.
Get someone else to distract him with a ball or other toy that he likes.
When he first notices the toy, then say his name, click for the head turn and reward and praise. Repeat 20 times per session in different locations.
Never use the dog’s name in a negative way. If you need him to stop doing something, physically interrupt and then quickly distract him with something great. We want our dogs to always think when you call their name and they pay attention something great will happen soon.
Attentions training is a game that both parties can win at. Keep the tone light and happy.
Never punish your dog for ignoring you. This will be counterproductive because after he is punished, he will, given a choice, avoid you.
Feed the first meal of the day for attention and focus with distractions.
Once you have his attention when you say his name, begin adding a cue that he knows right after you say it.
Treats tossed on the floor beside the dog may be more effective for getting and marking a head turn toward you.