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Training Article: Fabulous Focus, Part 3

Trainer Lisa Lyle Waggoner continues her series focusing on getting perfect attention from your dog.


by Lisa Lyle Waggoner, CPDT-KA

Play focus and attention games. There are two main focus and attention games I play with my dogs: Capturing Attention and The Name Game. I say game, because games are fun and if you're both having fun, training is bound to be successful. Don't underestimate the value of simple and fun exercises.

Capturing Attention  

The goal of this game is to teach your dog to check in with you. My definition of a check-in is that when I have my dog on-leash and without cueing her, she periodically looks toward me to see what I'm doing. This is even more important when she's off-leash with me; she'll be able to enjoy the environment around her, perhaps even running or walking 50 to 100 feet away from me, but will turn to check-in to see what I'm up to. This keeps her near me and keeps her focus on me. Here's a video of me working on recall with Willow in a brand new environment and reinforcing her for checking in:

Here's how to train Capturing Attention: Stand with your dog on-leash and observe your dog without talking to her. Your goal is to set the dog up for success, so please practice first in a no-distraction environment. Say nothing at all to your dog; merely watch her. The instant your dog orients toward you or looks at you, mark the behavior with a verbal Yes! or a click; reinforce with a yummy treat (or game of tug); verbally praise your dog; and then take your attention off your dog for a moment. Removing eye contact gives your dog permission to return to visually exploring the environment. Repeat this exercise until you've achieved success in the no-distraction environment and slowly work up to success in gradually more distracting environments. You can begin with a six-foot leash and eventually work up to a 20-foot (or longer) long line before practicing off-leash. Here's a video of me demonstrating this exercise with Willow: 

This video shows dogs on long lines learning to check-in with their handler while in a distracting environment:  

The Name Game

This teaches your dog to immediately look toward you when the dog's name is spoken. Your dog's name should mean, Look immediately at me and wait for further instruction. Your dog's name does not mean: Get out of the trash, stop chasing the cat, or drop my shoe. You always want your dog to feel awesome when you say her name. In this exercise, your dog's name is the cue. Again, begin on leash and in a distraction-free environment. When your dog is slightly distracted, say her name (one time) in a happy tone of voice. The instant she turns her head toward you mark the behavior with a Yes! or a click and reinforce with a yummy treat; verbally praise your dog; and then withdraw your attention for a moment, giving her a chance to look away. When you say her name, if she doesn't look at you immediately, resist the urge to repeat her name. Continuing to repeat your dog's name can create learned irrelevance (learning to ignore things that have no meaning). Instead, make a kissy or squeaky noise that will likely get her attention. Then you can mark her look toward you with a Yes! or a click and reinforce her with a treat or other reinforcer.

In this video, you'll see Donna working with Sunny on Capturing Attention and the

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