Dog Won’t Listen? Try Attention Training

Attention Training – The first thing I work on with any new dog is attention. If your dog is ignoring you, it is very unlikely that he will obey commands. Attention training is intended to do a number of important things: teach your dog that training is fun, teach you how to deliver a proper reward sequence, teach your dog the reward sequence, establish your role as the leader and build a bond between you and your dog. Although it sounds complicated, the why is much more complex than the how. Proper delivery of the command-reward sequence is important to establish a clear pathway for understanding between you and your dog. The sequence goes like this:

  1. Command
  2. Dog executes desired behavior
  3. Marker
  4. Reward

Sounds simple, right? It is and it isn’t. It is simple to understand, but not always easy to remember to do!

For Attention Training, we will be using the dog’s name to establish eye contact with the handler. This is important for a number of reasons that will become clear as training progresses. Additionally, we are teaching the dog that the Marker word (I use ‘YES!’) means a treat is coming. Teaching this marker-reward relationship is vital to future training as well.

Here is the command-reward sequence for Attention Training:

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  1. Command: ‘Cricket’ (insert your dog’s name here)
  2. Wait for desired behavior – in this case, it is the dog making eye contact with you. Be patient and let the dog think through the problem. Refrain from repeating the command.
  3. Marker: ‘YES!’
  4. Reward: Treat

While this appears to be a simple exercise, the value is immeasurable.

Upping the Ante – Adding Distractions

So your dog has this eye contact thing down? Good! Let’s begin introducing distractions and see if we can get the same response.

A word about distractions – for dogs, distractions are often related to distance. A dog may be highly distracted by a dog who is only 10 feet away from him, but uninterested in a dog who is 100 feet away. To work a distraction, use distance from the distracting object as your key to increasing and decreasing the level for your dog.

In the training area or at home, your dog may perform well but as soon as you get into the real world – on a walk or if company comes over – your dog ‘forgets’ everything you have worked on.

That’s normal.

If the dog has not been ‘proof trained’ to ignore distractions, then likely he will not ignore them. Your treat does not hold nearly as much interest or value as the neighbor’s cat.

In this case, you will need to (on leash, of course) put some greater distance between your dog and the neighbor’s cat, then ask for the behavior again. No response? Move further away from the cat and possible increase the value of your treat.

When you get the appropriate response from your dog, reward and praise!! Have a party! Give a few extra yummies and pats! Now, move a few steps closer to the cat and try again.

When you know that the distraction is great – the reward must also be great for compliance. This instills a desire to please you, regardless of the circumstances.

 

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Should you think that your pet needs medical attention, please contact your local veterinarian.  
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