How Can I Get My Dog Attention?

This is a very good question that people with little or no experience with dogs should but often do not ask. If you are finding it tough to get your dog attention, this article is for you. One of the most common problems I see among dog owners is the issue of how to get their dog to pay attention to them. You can be the best trainer in the world, but if a dog won't look at you, who cares? Here are some tips on how to engage your dog and make training much simpler.

1. Reward your dog correctly and frequently. There is a chain of events that I see all too often in the context of human-dog interactions and it goes a little something like this: Dog does something bad, owners calls dog over, dog comes to owner, the dog is reprimanded for bad behavior. Perhaps this seems like a reasonable chain of events, but what is actually happening here is that the dog is being punished for coming to the owner and paying attention - not for the behavior that the owner thinks he is reprimanding. 

Over time, the dog learns that "Dog! Come here!" means "I am mad and something unpleasant is happening!" and the dog chooses to ignore requests for attention. Obviously, this is not good or what we have intended. Instead, if you want a dog that really pays attention and comes when called, it is essential to make it rewarding each and every time. This can mean food rewards if you desire, but praise, affection, and play will also suffice. Just make sure that whenever your dog responds to your command for attention, you make it worth his while.

2. Be something that your dog WANTS to look at. Easier said than done? Quite possibly. But it's so important to remember that we are always competing with the environment for our dog's attention, and if we are not making an effort to be interesting, most likely the environment will win that battle. When I am working with a dog, I communicate as if I am talking to a child - with enthusiasm, purpose, and wonderment!! I am so excited by the world! Simply changing my tone of voice will often be enough to get a dog's attention, but I also use body language and movement as well.

3. Practice engagement training. Engagement training is exactly what it sounds like - training your dog to engage with you. I love working on engagement training... it is a lot of fun for handler and dog alike. Some dogs are just naturally attentive and engaged with their owners... but most aren't! And though many people will spend massive amounts of time teaching a dog a library of commands, they don't spend time training the dog HOW to be engaged, which is the most important part of dog training in my opinion. This kind of training teaches the dog to check in with you frequently, and that it is more rewarding to pay attention to you than to the environment.

4. Set it up for success. Don't expect your dog to give you rock-solid attention at all times without taking the time to train and cultivate it. This means starting your training in a low-to-no distraction environment and working up to more and more distractions. Don't start in the middle of a crowded dog park and expect your dog to be 100% engaged. Time and training are required!

5. Put it on cue. Though we hope that your dog is already checking in with you frequently and giving you lots of eye contact, it is still important to have a solid "watch" command for emergencies and whatnot. Take the time to train this command reliably in your dog. And don't overuse it! I see it all the time - the owner is begging the dog to "watch... watch... watch! WATCH!!!! WAAAAATCHH!!!!!!" and the dog is completely oblivious. If that is happening with your dog, then your dog does not know what this command means and you need to start training it again from the beginning... preferably using a different word as a cue. The word "watch" has become synonymous with "ignore me".

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