Do you know what one of the most important and underrated aspects of positive dog training is? It is learning how to get your dog’s attention.
Think about it this way: How will you train your dog using positive methods if your dog doesn’t pay any attention to you? The best tip is, the attention you need to command to successfully train your dog doesn’t come without work.
If you’ve been struggling to teach your pet to ignore distractions, such as pets like cats, birds, and other animals, this blog will show you how to get your dog’s attention. You’ll also learn three fun and easy exercises to begin to train this behavior.
How to Get Your Dog’s Attention: Teaching Your Dog to be a Good Student
Training for your dog’s attention teaches them to be a good student. In class, the best student is someone sitting quietly, content to wait for the teacher’s instructions. It is much easier for an owner to teach a dog everything else once they set this foundation in place.
Later in this post, I will share two of my favorite attention exercises. They revolve between paying attention and waiting for instructions. If you have a distracted canine, I’ll include additional tips on turning your dog into a good student.
Training for your dog’s attention is among the core principles in positive reinforcement training. It is also a necessity to make your dog’s training successful. In my opinion, training your dog to pay attention is one of the fundamentals that nearly all dog training experts underemphasize. For example, a lot of problems can arise when your dog won’t give you their attention. A dangerous behavior like running into the street could become serious if your dog doesn’t respond to your commands.
Once you read this post, you will have the correct mindset. You’ll also learn the training exercises to get your dog to pay attention. In terms of daily living, your search is over for simple steps to get a happy, well-trained and trusting new family member.
How Do You Know If You Have Your Dog’s Attention?
The easiest way to see if your dog is paying attention to you is by observing it. See if it’s looking at you constantly and following everything you do closely. Free play can help you see what grabs your dog’s attention. Some people even use clicker training, which most dogs see as a fun game to play.
Once you have an attentive dog it will be quite obvious, especially to other family members or friends. For example, they may mention how your dog constantly seems to follow you around and work for your attention.
If your dog is anything like most, you’ll experience this when it’s feeding. The next time your dog is eating or enjoying a treat, watch their body language to see how they respond. The way they position themselves indicates how intent they are on what they are doing at the time.
However, some dogs are discrete, so they send a message of ambivalence. It seems like they couldn’t be bothered about where you are or what you are doing. But the moment you disappear from sight, they are suddenly right behind you. If your dog was truly aloof, you would have to call them using a special treat or word, like “come” or “here” to get their attention.
My dogs can even be upstairs when I’m working downstairs. But the moment I stop writing on my computer, they come down so I don’t slip away without them. To put it shortly, attention is when your dog is aware of your movements and what you are doing at any time of the day. This may reduce your level of privacy, but your dog will be happier and safer when they pay attention to you.
Is Having Your Dog’s Attention Overrated?
You might wonder if all this talk about getting a dog’s attention is overrated. After all, the policy of “old school” trainers is that it is secondary to other skills. They believe they get the same results or better by telling the dog to pay attention when they want it to. And if the dog does not listen, the next thing they do is to force it to pay attention.
Just look at your dog when it has you in focus because it wants to, not because it has to. You can see that it’ll do anything to please you. Once you get to this stage, the rest of your training will be a much better experience. And that is precisely why you need to focus on training your dog to pay attention to you.
Don’t Take Your Dog’s Attention for Granted
In my experience, we take so much for granted – too much, as a matter of fact. When a dog first comes to us, it relies on us completely. We are at the center of its attention every minute of the day. But this is only for the first few weeks because as the dog develops, its world grows bigger. All the new stuff it encounters becomes interesting – maybe even more interesting than you.
This is bad news for your relationship.
There should be nothing more interesting than you in the long run. If you can stay at the center of your dog’s attention and improve your bond with your dog, everything will become much easier.
So how do we accomplish this? We train every day, all year.
We make it a habit, not only for us but also for our fantastic dogs. What we train is not just the ordinary sit, come, down – no. Before, under and after this comes training the dog to pay attention to you.
So now you understand what it means to have your dog’s attention and why it’s so important. It’s time to move into the basic framework for teaching attention. You will learn a few simple exercises to ensure your dog is always paying attention to you.
Your Dog Knows When You Are Not Focused
First things first: When training your dog to pay attention to you, you have to be there. This means being present with your dog – remember your dog can feel you. It knows when you’re sad and when you’re happy. And it most certainly knows when you are lying and when you are not.
Therefore, be sure you’re present throughout the relatively short time you train your dog.
The framework for teaching your dog to pay attention is extremely simple. Reward your dog when it pays attention to you. You can reward your dog in many ways – with treats, praise, and even with happiness.
To understand how to reward your dog for paying attention, read on to discover my three favorite ways to train my dogs to pay attention.
Dog Attention Exercise #1 – Eye Contact
The first exercise is called eye contact, and this is an exercise that teaches your dog to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. To do this exercise, follow these simple steps:
- Grab some treats and sit beside your dog.
- Wait for them to look at you, which requires a bit of patience the first time. Hang in there – it’s worth the wait.
- At the moment your dog lifts its eyes to yours, praise them warmly. You can use your clicker or reward it with its favorite treat.
- Keep still and wait for it to happen again. Repeat until your dog understands that looking in your eyes or at your face brings good things – and a happy you.
See this video for a more thorough explanation of this exercise:
Dog Attention Exercise #2 – Impulse Control
This exercise is called impulse control. It is more of a concept than an actual exercise because there are many variations. When your dog knows it’s supposed to look at you, you can use this endlessly in everything you do. Here’s how:
- “Drop” something from the kitchen table or desk.
- If your dog tries to grab it, cover it with your foot.
- When your dog sits and – at some point – looks at you, praise it and tell it to get it.
Again, your dog learns it pays off to look at you before doing what it wants. In this way, your dog can channel every good thing it wants and gets through you. In your dog’s eyes, you are then the origin of it all. This creates a strong foundation for additional training and bonding.
See this video below for instructions on how to use this when feeding your dog:
Dog Attention Exercise #3 – Hand Targeting
The attention from your dog is also desirable when something happens that might scare or upset them. If you do nothing, your dog will grow more and more scared or upset. And if it cannot run, it will probably attack instead. This is natural, but nevertheless undesirable behavior.
Too many Facebook posts and YouTube videos provide examples of dogs who fail to pay attention. And you can avoid that with hand targeting. So, instead of allowing this behavior to unfold, train attention to get in contact with your dog, even in times like that.
To practice this contact on demand, just follow these simple steps:
- Put your hand in front of your dog with the palm of your hand right in front of your dog’s nose.
- Do not say anything, as it is good for your dog to use its brain – this also goes for us humans.
- Wait for your dog to touch the palm of your hand.
- The moment it happens, reward your dog – at first by praising it or by clicking, and then by giving a treat.
- Do it again, and every time your dog touches the palm of your hand, reward it.
In time, your dog will know when your hand is down, it’s a signal to touch, and good things will happen, because you have a connection. As long as your dog is focusing on you, it cannot focus on whatever might disturb it. You’re on your way to avoiding a conflict and protecting your dog from being scared or disturbed. Your dog will love you for it.
See this video below for instructions of this exercise, as well as more interesting ways to use hand targeting in your dog training:
Treats and Rewards: A Word on Weight
As you can see from the videos above, you can use treats often as a reward for the behavior you want to encourage. For this reason, I usually retain 50 percent of my dog’s rations, which I distribute evenly throughout the day in training sessions like this.
If I did not retain these rations, my dogs would probably lose the motivation for food. If your dog is responsive to food, it could end up becoming overweight. See this article on Pet MD for more information on how much a dog should eat.
To sum it all up, the fundamental and therefore most important principle in positive dog training is attention. This includes paying attention to your dog and its training. But most of all, it’s having your dog’s attention on you at all times.
Sadly, this is also what nearly all dog training experts underemphasize, but don’t make the same mistake. Remember this one piece of advice and the rest of your dog training will become much easier and far more worthwhile
Good luck with your training!