You might find yourself looking at your dog asking her the overwhelming question of, “Where do I start helping you learn better behavior?” Well I say congratulations – you have already started! By asking that question, you have made the first step towards a better relationship with your dog! Amidst all the confusing dog training books and online information, where do you start teaching your dog good behavior?
The Answer: Focus is first. I am sure that you have seen an owner at a park or even in a pet store that is calling their dog’s name Sam, Sam stop that, Sam don’t do that, Sam listen to me!! (Maybe you are that owner, and that’s okay. A dog or her owner is never too old to learn new things!) Meanwhile, the ignored owner is either raising her voice every time Sam’s name is called, or you are now hearing the pleading tone she has resorted to using. What is Sam doing during this yelling and pleading? Why she is enthusiastically rearranging (chewing and de-stuffing!) all the toys on the lower shelf or she is happily running amuck at the park! What is the cause of all this wild, embarrassing behavior your beloved pooch is exhibiting? Your pup has developed selective hearing of course! What causes selective hearing? Lack of Focus. Now the next question is, how do you avoid being the lady in the store paying for an entire display of toys (Sam is going to be set for a long time!) or the man trying desperately to catch Sam at the park in the rain?
Focus work is something even the busiest of us can find the time to work on. Here is our goal with Focus: you want your dog to eagerly look towards you when she hears her name. This might sound very simple and straightforward, but the key is to get this response anytime and anywhere. It is always important to remember that behaviors must be mastered on leash before you can expect that behavior off- leash. To develop your dog’s focus, start with her on a 6 foot lead, either inside or outside. Let you dog wander and get distracted. When you notice she is looking off into the distance call her name in an upbeat but firm voice, Sam. At the same time, give her a tug with the lead and right when she turns to look at you give her lots of praise, Good Sam or Yes Sam. Also, have a treat ready. Your goal is eye contact – if your dog is not looking up at you, then there is no focus. To get eye contact, call her name, and give the tug. When she turns, show her a treat and bring it up towards your eyes. You will see her eyes flick between your eyes and the treat. When she looks at you praise and give her the treat. Repeat this a few times until she is turning and looking at you immediately (with help from the tug). Once you have accomplished this, you can remove the tug. Now call her name and see if she turns without the help from the leash. If she does – lots of praise and a treat. If not, be quick to help her with the tug and practice until you are not having to tug and treat every time. Lastly, start replacing your treats with praise only; give a treat only every 3rd or 4th time. Practice this in as many different places as possible and you will be proofing. Use your walks as a time to practice – we all know there are lots of distractions during a walk! If you find your dog is having a hard time focusing in a certain area, then try it somewhere with fewer distractions. Then work your way back toward the challenging area. Stay consistent and have fun! Focus work is a great way to bond with your dog and to build a great working relationship. If you find that you are having trouble getting your dog to focus or there are other issues that keep you from taking her out in public, then give me a call and we can work on it together!
Katie’s Dog Training offers private, in-home training sessions so that you can experience the loyalty and companionship that a well balanced dog offers. Even though she has graduated numerous training schools, the dogs themselves tend to be her most beneficial teachers. She and her husband share their home with three wonderful dogs, Luka, Jazzy and Honey as well as a crazy cat named D’Angelo.