Why is “Attention” so important to teach your puppy? Because if you can get and keep your puppy’s attention, you can prevent or interrupt unwanted behaviors. Attention is a powerful thing! And, your puppy is going to be very distracted smelling things and checking things out. So teaching your puppy “attention” skills can help greatly when you’re teaching your pup new skills and commands.
In the dog world, direct eye contact is threatening to another dog. The polite and non-threatening way to greet a dog properly is NOT to give direct eye contact. But we humans can’t help ourselves! We love to look directly into the eyes of dogs and tell them how beautiful they are! We may love it, but most dogs don’t. Teaching your dog that eye contact by a human is non-threatening and actually brings good things is really important!
Try this indoors first.
- First, stand up straight and stand in front of your puppy. Take a treat or even a toy and lead it up to your eyes letting your puppy follow it and say “[your puppy’s name] look at me!” When your puppy looks at you, immediately reward with a treat. Note: it is not necessary to get your puppy into a “sit” however it’s a good way to practice your sits. And if your dog jumps on you, simply move back but continue talking to your puppy to keep the exercise going.
- Repeat and reward when your puppy looks at you.
- Then, try to keep your puppy’s attention by happily talking to them (be silly – say whatever you need to keep their attention!). As they continue to look at you – SHOVEL the treats in! You need to teach your puppy that looking at you brings good things. If your puppy looks away (and they will), just simply call them back. When they turn back and look at you – reward! If your puppy is disinterested, first use higher reward treats and get more verbal and animated. Remember: you are competing with a lot of distractions so make it fun and interesting for your puppy to look at you instead. If your puppy has lost complete interest, end the exercise and start over later on.
- Keep your attention exercises short (begin with 20-40 seconds and move up to 30-60 then 1min to 2 min) and frequent.
- In the beginning, try for 3 seconds of looking at you (without rewards). Then try for 5 seconds, then try for 10 seconds. You get the picture.
- Keep building on this. Eventually work towards not only seconds of keeping their attention but MINUTES! (Remember this takes time and practice!)
Teaching Attention from the side:
- Have your puppy sit by your side and follow the steps above. Once you’ve got their attention at a stationary position, you can take a few steps asking for their attention. Note: this is the beginning of heel work / loose leash walking.
- Once your puppy’s attention is good inside, begin working on it outside. Since you will be competing with many distractions, start from the beginning. Try for 3 seconds and build on that. Eventually you want to work up to minutes of attention outside too. Remember, this takes lots of practice!
Never stop working on attention. This is a great exercise to do every day!
Teaching a ‘sit’
A “sit” is one of the most important things to teach our dogs. And, it’s also one of the easiest.
- Take a treat, cupped in your hand while your pup is standing and lure your pup into a sit by moving your hand up and over your dog’s nose to the back of his head (palm up).
- As soon as he backside hits the floor, happily say “good sit!” and reward with the treat.
- Repeat 5x. (Do not say the word first – your dog doesn’t know what “sit” means yet.)
- Once your pup is following your lure regularly, you’ll now begin to add the word first. With treat in hand again begin to lure your pup into the sit and as you do so, add the word drawn out. SSS-III-TTT saying the “T” as their bum hits the floor. Reward when they sit.
- Repeat 5x.
- Once your dog is doing this regularly, you’ll now ask for the “sit” first. Get your treat and ask your dog to “sit.” Remember to say this calmly but confidently. If your pup does it, reward big time!!!! If not, give him a second. Be patient. Your dog may need to process what to do. If he does something other than the sit say “wrong” and wait. If he still isn’t figuring it out then don’t worry, you just moved a bit too fast. Go back to the step he was last successful at and practice. Then try the final step again.
Remember: be patient.
As your dog progresses, you should incorporate the hand signal as you fade the treats out. The hand signal for “sit” is an open, palm up hand going up towards your shoulder bending at the elbow. The point of teaching a hand signal is two-fold. First, dogs often respond better with hand signals (visual) versus verbal commands. Secondly, the hand signal gives you a distance advantage. If your dog got away from you and was about to run across the busy street, you could put him into a sit (if you’ve practiced enough so that it’s reliable) however with a lot of noise, he probably won’t hear your voice. But, he CAN see the hand signal.
Once your dog knows a sit, use that to your advantage. Before the leash goes on, have him sit. Before he goes out the door, have him sit. Have him sit before receiving his dinner. Have him sit before receiving a pet in public. The list goes on.
Practice is very important. But just because your pup knows how to sit, it doesn’t stop there. Now practice your sits in other places; outside on the grass, down the street, in the pet store.
Sit should be second nature. It’s a great alternative to unwanted behaviors.
Teaching to Target: ‘Touch’ Command
Targeting is taught for various reasons. It can be used to teach assistance dogs to open doors, cupboards, etc. It can be used to move your dog from one place to another (great for resource guarders!!!), to help teach your dog to walk nicely, and to offer a positive distraction for your dog while out on a walk (for those serious squirrel hunters!). And aside from all of that, it’s just a fun exercise that you and everyone in the family can do with your dog to keep their mind working and helping bond with your pup.
You can use a clicker for this training however below are instructions for those not using a clicker.
- Get a yummy treat in one hand. Take your other hand and place it close to your dogs nose, palm facing them, fingers pointing to either side of your dog (imagine a “stop!” hand signal but sideways) and say “touch” in a happy, calm voice. What you are looking for it your dogs nose to touch your hand. Tongues don’t count.
- As soon as his nose touches, say “yes!” in a quick, happy voice and immediately reward with the treat. Do not say anything else like (good dog). “Yes” is the marker. It is the signal that he did the right thing. Repeat keeping your hand close.
- If your dog does not touch the hand when you give the command, simply pull your hand back and use a “no reward” marker like “wrong.” Then try again closer. It just means that either you’ve moved too far too fast or your dog is getting bored with the command.
- Once your dog can do this 5x in a row at a very close distance, begin moving your hand just slightly further away including to the side.
- Continue practicing every day (short sessions — just 5 minutes several times a day). Eventually you will be able to ask your dog to “touch” from a distance and your dog will get up to come over and “touch.” It’s really fun and builds confidence in your dog!
No matter what size, what age, dogs love this! You can incorporate a game of ball as the reward instead of a treat. Say “yes!” and start a game of ball. And this is a great exercise to teach the kids to do with the dog.