Updated: Jul 10
Training your dog requires commitment and patience. It also requires your dog to pay attention to you. It's important to the training process. The dog cannot learn anything if he's off in the clouds. Another good reason to getting your dog to focus when training is to teach him to look at you in situations when you're out and about. That is essential to his safety.
How do you get the attention of an unfocused dog?
First things first. As with any type of new training, its important to train where there are no distractions. Train somewhere where you can control the environment and limit distractions.
Earn your dog's trust, don't demand it!
Once you have chosen your work area area, hold on to your dog's leash, let him smell, look around, and continue to do his "dog thing." Do not talk to your dog, pull on his leash, look at him, or anything else to get his attention.This may take several minutes, but be patient. You are waiting for the moment your dog looks at you on his own! As soon as he looks at you, mark it with "yes" and treat immediately. If he goes back to being more interested in the environment that is okay. Continue to be patient and wait for the next time your dog looks at you. Once he looks at your again, on his own, mark it with "yes" and treat again. Every time you dog looks at you, mark and treat! Eventually he will realize that every time he looks at you he will be given a treat. This is how you earn his attention. It is much easier to train a dog that wants to learn verses demanding your dog to perform a command.
Eye Contact or "watch/look" command
Eye contact is also key and its the first step in teaching your dog to focus on you. Take a treat and place it near your eye. Once your dog looks you in the eye, give him the treat. Over time, your dog will understand that eye contact gets him a reward. Eventually, you can move to simply placing your hand near your eye to get the desired effect.
Training your dog to leave it is the next core component and teaching him to focus on you.
1) Begin by placing a treat on the palm of your hand.
2) When your dog goes for the treat, close your hand around it so that he can't get it.
3) Once he leaves it alone, you can then give him the treat.
4) Be sure to give the "leave it" command as you close your fist so that he understand the command word associated with the action.
After he's got the command down when the treat is in your hand, move to placing the treat on the floor. Begin with giving the "leave it" command and waiting for a few seconds. Chances are, that's all your dog will be able to handle in the beginning. After a few seconds, reward you dog with a different treat or give him verbal praise. Slowly increase the time over multiple training sessions until your dog is able to "leave it" for as long as you say. Remember, training your dog is all about consistency. It's better to begin with a super short of "leaving it" to ensure his success than to try to walk before he can run.
The Focus Combo
Here's where you get into training your dog to focus on you. You'll combine "leave it" with "watch." You might experience a few hiccups in the beginning as this is an advanced combo, but your dog will get it. Once he does, you'll be able to move to the yard, where you can further strengthen this focus command where more distractions are present.
Convenience and Safety
Training your dog to focus on you serves two purposes. It allows you to more easily teach him other commands because you can get his attention for increased success. It allows you to protect him from himself in possibly dangerous situations. Training your dog to focus on you can help everything from preventing a dog fight to keeping him out of dangerous situations like running into traffic or chasing an animal. Remember, training your dog to focus on you is the key to further training success and safety, so give it a try! It might seem daunting at first, but your dog will get it in no time.