Attention Training for Your Pup

Attention training is the easiest exercise for those new to training. It teaches the trainer the importance of timing and of the two-way need for attention when it comes to training. And, it teaches the trainer to be patient and consistent.

Dogs are thinking about what they are looking at. If your pup is not looking at you, then you can bet he is not thinking about you or what you want him to do.

To begin with, say the puppy’s name and watch for him to look at you. Have a small treat in your hand, and immediately when the puppy looks at you, give him the treat and use your clicker or verbal affirmation (“Yes!” or "Good!"). The word “immediately” is the most important word in this sentence, and if there were triple underscores available, that would almost be enough. Timing is everything.

If your puppy doesn’t look at you, don’t give a treat, don’t correct – just wait, and try again later. The first time he gets it right AND you get the timing right, things should begin to progress more quickly. Do this at odd times of the day except when it is close to time for bed. Some puppies will not have the best potential for successful learning at that time, and it is important that you set him up for success.

Trainer Arlene Courtney at Western Oregon University recommends "Give your reinforcements on a variable schedule. Vary your reinforcers. It's always a good idea to have several different types of food treats. If one type of treat isn't reinforcing enough, pull out something better. If the dog has ignored a really difficult distraction, reinforce with your best treat. Intersperse physical praise, if your dog likes petting, and verbal praise with your food treats. If you are upbeat and unpredictable, your dog will be too interested in you to care about anything else."

Continue the exercise of saying his name and immediately giving a small treat with praise when he looks at you. Once he has the hang of this, keep eye contact a little longer, then reward. The goal of this training is to get your dog to focus on you, despite distractions. You can start out by holding the treat in front of your face for a dog that is very food motivated, and then gradually move the food away from your eyes, but only reward when the dog focusses on your eyes, not on the treat. Work to lengthen the amount of time between the initial eye contact and the treat reward until your pup can go for several seconds of intense focus before being rewarded.

This is a very important beginning for a long and successful relationship. Attention training will pay off in all future training because your dog will be able to focus on you without being distracted by other things going on around you.

Attention Training with Ian Dunbar

© 2016 Newfoundland Club of America

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