The very first step in getting your dog to do anything with you is to build a relationship where your dog sees you as someone with whom they want to pay attention to. So, make it rewarding and FUN for your dog to engage and interact with you! Simple math: If every time your dog looks at you or pays attention to you and good things happen for him, then he is going to look at you and pay attention to you more often.
Here are FOUR SIMPLE GAMES/CUES you can teach your dog to increase attention and focus:
SILENT FOCUS GAME: No words needed on this one, you are just teaching your dog that when he looks at you, good things happen. A relationship builder! Trainers often have different names for behaviors so if you have played Leslie McDevitt’s “Up-Down” game, you’ve done a version of this.
- Stand in front of your dog and just wait, or make a kissy sound so that he looks up at you. As soon as he looks at you, drop the treat to the ground. You can use a clicker or marker when he looks at you or not! Repeat 8-10 times.
- Some dogs learn to just stand and stare at you so you want to toss the treat to the ground and not hand it to his mouth so that he looks away (to the floor).
- When your dog looks up at you mark and toss treat and then step a foot or two away. When your dog comes over and looks up at you, mark and toss treat to the floor and take a couple steps away.
- Add more steps and movement in different directions. Every time he comes over and looks at you, mark and toss treat to ground.
- If you used a marker (click or yes) at the beginning, you can lose it now. Sometimes when a dog sees you with the clicker and accompanying treat pouch he thinks (rightfully) that he is in “training mode” and we want the dog to offer up this attention even when not “training.”
NAME GAME: Teaches your dog to orient (and come!) to you when you say his name.
- Say your dog’s name and give a high value treat. He does not need to be looking at you at this point. Just pair his name with something yummy. Repeat 8-10 times.
- Say your dog’s name and wait until he orients towards you/looks at you then give high value treat.
- Step a foot or two away from your dog, say his name and treat when he looks at you.
- Increase distance and movement away from your dog, say his name, give a treat when he comes to you and looks at you.
- Gradually start doing this in more distracting environments.
LOOK: Having your dog make eye contact with you any time you ask him to. I’m going to preface this one with… I actually prefer the SILENT FOCUS GAME above more than having to put eye contact on a cue. There are some circumstances where having the dog know that the word “Look” means give me eye contact is useful but I really don’t like to have to keep telling my dog to look at me! I would rather, we have built up a relationship in which my dog knows that engaging with me (looking at me) brings good things for him. You can also use your dog’s name (see NAME GAME above) as his focus cue. If you really want that LOOK cue, here is how you would teach it:
- Lure the dog to your eyes. You can do this two ways:
a. Prompt your dog by making a “kissy” sound (the international signal for “look at me”). .
b. If the kissy prompt does not work, show your dog the treat in your hand and bring the treat up to your nose. Your dog will most likely follow the treat up to your face
- The second your dog looks in your eyes click (or mark with “yes”) & treat. He will probably glance briefly from your eyes to the treat so timing is key; make sure only to mark when looking in your eyes (not at the treat). Repeat this 8-10 times.
- Next, with a treat in your other hand, bring finger up to your nose. When your dog looks in your eyes click & treat. Practice steps 1 and 2 several times.
- Wait a few moments and see if your dog will spontaneously look to your face. If he does, click & treat. If he doesn’t look at you try to make a “kissy” sound to get his attention then click & treat if he looks at you. If he still doesn’t look at you after making a sound go back to steps 1 and 2.
- Once your dog is consistently looking at you and has figured out the game, you can add the verbal cue “look” right before you lure (bringing your finger to your nose or making the kissy sound).
- When your dog is making eye contact easily, start adding distraction by extending your hand with the treat out to the side and ask him to “look”. Be ready to prompt with “kissy” sounds if necessary and to click & treat the second he looks at you.
- Once he has it inside, take him to an area with slightly more distraction and begin from step 1.
TOUCH: A targeting behavior that for practical purpose, gets your dog’s attention back to you when cueing him to touch his nose to your hand. Targeting has a ton of other great uses from moving him from one place to another, a plethora of tricks to helping with cooperative care for medical procedures and getting your dog comfortable wearing equipment.
Teach a simple Nose to Hand target:
- Start with your clicker and treats in the same hand. Or have your treats in a pouch or bowl near you.
- Stick your opposite hand in your treat bag and get it nice and smelly J
- Hold your empty but “smelly hand” about 3 inches just to the side of your dog’s nose. Try to bring your hand from underneath, not over your dog’s head.
- When he reaches his nose to your hand to sniff (or lick) and touches it briefly click at the exact time he touches your hand and give him a treat.
- Repeat putting your hand a few inches from his nose and when he makes contact, click and treat.
- Gradually move your hand further away, to a different side or height and again, when he makes contact click and treat.
- At some point, you will see your dog “get it” – he will understand that this touching nose to your hand is exactly what you want him to do. When he is doing this regularly (not before!) add the word/cue “touch” right before you bring your hand down and when he touches, click and treat.
- Even more on Targeting here!