Getting your dog to focus on you is one of the most important foundations for successful additional training. If your dog isn’t focused on you, he isn’t likely to respond to what you are asking him to do. Some trainers have the attention word be the dog’s name. Personally, I don’t like using the dog’s name as a command.
To get your dog to focus on you, have him in front of you or at your side. Let your dog know that you have a treat and then hold it just below your eye level close to your face and say your stimulus word like “Watch” or “Here.” (Some trainers have the attention word be the dog’s name. Personally, I don’t like using the dog’s name as a command.) As long as your dog keeps watching the treat, slowly lower the treat to your dog’s mouth, keeping eye contact the whole time. Give the treat from your open palm, holding it with your thumb—delivering it below the mouth, not in front of his face. Mark the behavior by repeating the stimulus word of “Watch” or “Here” with your reward marker of “Good” or “Yes” as he gets the treat.
You can use this command before meal times as for most dogs, this is the one time of the day when you can be sure your every move is being closely watched! Keep the bowl near your face, say your stimulus word and slowly lower the bowl. Expect the eye contact to hold, even when lowering the bowl. If it doesn’t, repeat the word and wait for the eye contact before continuing—even standing back up to the starting position, if necessary.
Repeat these steps at random times during the day to get your dog used to stopping whatever he is doing when you ask for his attention. You aren’t asking him to come necessarily, just focus on you. You will know the command is learned when you can ask for your dog’s attention, hold the treat away from your eyes and to the side and he still focuses on you! Party time!
Once your attention word is learned, you have a handy option when your dog is doing something that you don’t want him to do. Get his attention with your stimulus word, reward the attention with a treat or a reward marker and then ask him to do something else—such as come, sit or down. Give lots of praise for the desired behavior. In other words you are asking him to stop the undesired behavior by focusing on you and, then, to do something you want him to do. (Dealing with undesired behavior is covered more thoroughly in the tip on Undesired Behavior.)
Written by Darlene Colmar, Asheville, NC