“My dog gets so distracted”, “My dog is fine at home”, “My dog knows what to do, he just doesn’t want to”.
Well, if I had a dollar for every time I heard those sentences, I’d be writing you this post from my penthouse…
Yes, dogs are super easily distracted, noises, smells, everything can be extremely exciting to a dog, specially one that hasn’t been properly socialised (will talk about this very soon as well). It’s not your dog, it is dogs in general, most dog owners who are struggling, are struggling for their dog’s attention.
So don’t feel like you’re alone 🙂 yay!
I, for instance, just got a dog that is exactly like that, so I’m with you on this journey…
Don’t fight the distractions – be the distraction
First thing that I always tell my student’s parents is, you have to stop fighting for attention.
The world is beautiful and exciting, all the colors, smells, the novelty, if you are out there being a grumpy old man, your dog will not feel inclined to look at you at all.
I don’t know who came up with the idea of looking or sounding angry to get a dog’s attention, because that is not the way to do it (of course shouting to scare a dog when they are in danger can be actually useful, but we are talking about training here, two completely different things).
I mean, if you want to teach your dog to listen, you need to teach your dog to WANT to look at you all the time! Not because they have to, but because good things happen when they look at you… maybe they get a treat, maybe a pet, maybe they simply only get to go on a walk if they do look at you.
Having your dog look at you is the most effective way to teach your dog to listen… go ahead and try to get a dog who’s fixated on something else to do a simple sit (the hassle!!), a dog who’s looking at you is a dog you can’t get to do anything.
So start being fun, dogs understand fun more than anything else, they look for it, they crave it and, if you are the most fun thing they can find, you are the one they are going to be looking at.
You already know about the marker word, so every single time your dog looks at you, it is a great time to use it!
The attention game
We want our dogs to be addicted to looking at us, but, lets be fair, that’s not always going to happen.
So it’s very handy to have a command that tells your dog they need to look at you at that very moment.
We call it the attention game!
It’s about teaching your dog to look at you! Simply look at you, every single time they hear their name.
Some people like the command “Look”, “Look at me”… really doesn’t matter. To be fair, I catch myself using all of those, as long as your pup knows what they mean, they will work.
To teach them that, you will give your command “Name”. “Look”, “Look at me” in a very high pitch voice, or as exciting as you can be, and you will mark with your “Good” or “Yes”, as soon as your dog gives you eye contact.
Like I said in the last post, it’s very important and you mark immediately when your dog looks at you, so they understand what exactly you are expecting of them when you give that command.
If that sounds a bit confusing, I’m posting a video to help shed some light!
Again, don’t take the foundation of your dog training for granted, having a dog focused looking at you is 80% of your work done.
Start small and easy
You are going to start these exercises in your house, always.
If you can’t get your dog to do something inside the house, your chances outside are basically none existent.
So start in the house… you can increase the difficulty by calling your dog from farther away or getting your dog to stare at you for longer.
When your dog gets really good in the house, move along to the backyard, later to your front yard and so on.
After you have reliable attention, you are going to start getting your dog to look at you on walks.
I call my dog back about five million times every walk, just to confirm that she is still there!
Dogs tend to forget about everything when they are out and about, so testing the dog to see if they still can pay attention is essential. I always say that, if you can’t get your dog to look at you, you probably can’t get them to do anything else either, so, if you notice you’ve lost their attention, look around and find the distraction, that is going to be your challenge.
Set your pup for success
You are just beginning to train your pup, so of course some things are going to be too much for them to look away from.
It is usually other dogs, birds, or sometimes even people.
The thing is, if you throw your dog in the most challenging situations and end up with a dog pulling, lunging, utterly ignoring you while you repeat their name over and over again, drowning with frustration, well… you are not teaching anything!
I actually made this mistake today and felt like such a rookie… it happens…
Mia was doing so well on her walks, I thought she was going to be fine by the beach where it is full of other dogs. Turns out I was wrong! But when she started getting over excited and out of control I was too far from home and couldn’t give her the correct feedback by removing her from the situation.
So, if dogs drive your dog crazy, you will not train among dogs. You will train away from them and, as you progress you will “introduce” dogs into your training, gradually, one at a time if possible…. and you will ensure that you have room to walk away with your dog if they lose it.
Distance is, to me, the best way to calm a dog down, so, if your dog can’t listen to you, I like to walk away from the distraction until they can… you mark, and then you go from there, showing your dog that, regardless of the distractions, they still must remain responsive.
Also, remember that actually saying hello to the dog can be a much better reward than any type of food so… look at you, marks and walks towards the dog, looks at the dog, walks backwards, works really really well.
And finally, every training session should be controlled, so don’t do it for hours either or you will be a very frustrated owner with a very frustrated pup…
A few minutes a day is more than enough, this way you will be making a point and show them what is the behavior you are seeking and that that behavior is what gets them to be outside and play.
Reach out if you need to know more!