Attention Training For Your Dog
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Where Are Your Eyes..... by Richard Martinez
...watch me, watch me, pay attention. Do these words sound familiar? Go to almost any training class and this is what people will be chanting, but this is what your dog will be hearing *@#$!@%#*%, and this is what your dog will be thinking (WHAT in the Hell do you want me to do). Believe it or not dogs do not understand English. It seems that when we teach the other exercises in obedience we always put an action with the word that we use as a command. When we start training a dog it seems that we automatically think that our dog should give us its undivided attention or that our dog will just do it. WRONG! Attention work is just like any other exercise it is definitely a trained response. Dog attention solves so many of your problems that if you dedicate yourself to teach your dog this basic exercise you would wonder how you trained so long without it. But it takes hard work and a mental picture of what your final goal should look like. With out the mental picture how do you know when you have achieved your goal.
The use of a release command is to let the dog know when it is working and when it's ok to relax. It does not mean he can pull me over to what ever distraction that catches his eye. When you finish giving your dog a command and he has completed the act - tell him OK and play for a few seconds. While you are doing this stay standing upright - do not bend way over to praise. You want to start getting your dog used to LOOKING UP and making eye contact with you. With your praise voice or by stroking upward under your dogs chin your dog might start thinking that it is not so bad to look upward at you.
Goal For This Exercise: When you give your dog the OK command your dog can play with you or just hang out.
Week 1 - RESPONSE TO NAME:
The first thing we teach in the attention work is to get the dog to respond to his name. Put the dog on a 6' foot leash and let him wander ahead of you or get interested in something else besides you. When the dog is not paying attention I will call the dogs name, give a pop on the leash and start moving backwards for about 8 to 10 paces while praising the dog in hopes that the dog will try to catch me. The second your dog reaches you, you should give him a treat or piece of food with a lot of praise for doing the correct response. After a few seconds we start this catch me game or Beat The Jerk as I call it all over again. If you play this game right you will start to see the dog looking up at you and not wanting to leave your side. When we can no longer fool the dog we need to start adding distractions. A distraction can be anything your dog finds more interesting or appealing than you. One distraction that you can use is another person or dog. Let someone call the dog and when he gets close to the person call the dogs name, give a pop on the leash and move backwards while praising your dog for coming. Within a week it should be very hard to fool the dog into not coming on leash to you. Remember the timing of the pop and praise is the KEY to keeping the dog up and happy. You should only use enough force with the leash pop to get the response of the dog coming to you eagerly and happy. End the session on a happy note.
Stationary Attention: Stationary attention is when your dog can sit on your left hand side and watch you regardless of distractions around him. When teaching attention you must give this exercise a name so your dog will know when it is supposed to be watching you. I use Ready or Watch. It really makes no difference what word you use for this exercise just remember to use the same word every time so your dog will start associating a word with an action.
Week 2 - SHOW:
During the first week you should introduce attention without distractions or corrections. Have food readily available so you can reward your dog for doing the correct behavior which is to look at you. You can have your dog sitting in front of you or on your left side in the beginning. Some dog find it easier to sit in front of you. At the end of the week you should be able to do this exercise on the left side if you started with your dog sitting in front of you. With your dog in the sit position show him the food, now draw the food up toward your face so that the dog is now looking up at you. Now the second your dog gives you eye contact give him the Ready or Watch command as you give him his food reward while calmly praising the dog for watching you, then release him and play a few seconds and start over again. After a few times of getting eye contact with a single piece of food we start with the same game but we also start trying to expand the time the dog has to watch us by using the food and praise to keep the dogs attention on us. Remember when praising the dog you should talk to your dog not at him. At the end of the week you should be able to have your dog maintain eye contact with you while you feed him for at least one minute.
Week 3 - REINFORCE:
We are still working in a distraction free environment and the food is still being used. Now we are ready to start adding mild corrections which are no more than a light pop straight up on the leash if your dog starts to look away. Anytime you have to correct your dog it should be followed with a food reward and praise the second the dog is watching you. At the end of the week most dogs will start to respond when they hear your watch command.
Week 4 - ADD MILD DISTRACTIONS:
Never over power your dog with distractions. If you can't keep your dogs attention on you simply put some distance between the dog and the distraction. Some examples of mild distractions are another dog and handler working at a distance, someone clapping their hands, someone whistling, cars going by on a road at a distance etc.. Remember to correct for any lack of attention with a light correction followed with food and praise.
Week 5 - MOVE DISTRACTIONS CLOSER TO DOG:
We are still using a mild correction with food and praise. Now it is time to see if all of your hard work is starting to pay off. When the distractions start getting closer your dog should keep his eyes on you. Be creative with your distractions but remember if the distraction is to strong back up and make it a little easier so your dog can have some success and win the game by paying total attention to you.
Week 6 - FIRST CORRECTION IS GIVEN WITHOUT FOOD:
Now we are going to start weaning away from the food. If while doing the attention exercise your dog looks away you simply give your dog a straight up pop on the leash followed by praise the second you have your dogs attention back on you. Remember it is very important to give the correction the second you dog starts to move his head and not wait until he has turned his head completely away. Be critical of head position.
Week 7 - SIT AND EXPECT PRAISE:
Sit and accept praise is the next step we teach. When we start teaching this exercise I like to be in a distraction free environment so that the dog can focus on watching me instead of everything else. This exercise teaches the dog that he can be praised but still be under control, which is helpful in advanced exercises. With the dog sitting on your left side begin praising your dog lavishly. Correct the dog for ANY movement or lack of attention with a quick jerk up on your leash. The minute your dog quits moving or is doing the response you want start praising again. You need to determine how much of a jerk you will need to give as a correction, every dog is different so learn to read your dog. After a few seconds of praising and while the dog is doing the correct response give your dog his release command. Play with your dog a few seconds then start the sit and accept praise exercise over. At first if you can only get 10 seconds that should be a easy starting point. Over the course of a few days try to expand the time up to a minute before you release your dog.
Goal For This Exercise: To have your dog sit at your side and be praised for a minute without moving or getting up until released with your OK command.
Week 8 - MOVING ATTENTION:
Teaching the moving part of attention work is where most people start having problems. Straight line heeling is the first thing we teach in the moving part of attention work. It is also the most important part of heeling. If a dog can't heel in a straight line with total attention the change of pace, turns and the halts will all suffer. With your dog on your left side and LOOKING UP at you start walking in a straight line trying to keep the dogs eyes on you. Your goal is for the dog to walk with his head up paying attention to you. If you lose his attention you MUST DO SOMETHING!
What you do when you lose attention should depend on why you lost attention and at what level of training you are at. You can break the exercise off with your OK or Release command or correct for lack of attention with a light pop straight up on your leash or take a side step to the right where you would pop toward you, praise and release. In the beginning only try to go a few steps while maintaining your dogs attention. Break the exercise after a few steps and praise, then get the dogs attention and start playing the game again this time trying to increase your distance a few more steps before you break and praise. When you can heel in a straight line with TOTAL attention for about 100 or so feet it is time to start adding distractions into your straight line heeling. We now teach the rest of the heeling parts in the following order, slow pace, fast pace, left turn, right turn, about turn and the halt. As always we will teach each separate part of heeling as a individual exercise. We will not start on another part of heeling until the dog has mastered the one we are teaching. I know we didn't talk a lot about heeling but this article is about DOG ATTENTION. I hope this will help with some of your training problems and until next time remember WHERE Are Your Eyes!
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