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Training Your Dog to Pay Attention

This is the first in a series of pet travel training guest posts by Eric Goebelbecker of DogSpelledForward

The past few years have given us more and more pet friendly establishments. It’s a great trend, and it’s great that web sites like GoPetFriendly.com are here to help us travel with our dogs. But to paraphrase a famous comic book, with this power comes some responsibility. If we want to be welcomed with our dogs, our dogs need to be good guests.

In order to travel well there are two aspects of our dog’s behavior that are very important – attention and impulse control. I’ll be covering these behavioral areas in a series of guest posts here on Take Paws.

Attention is the foundation of all dog training and behavior modification. If you can’t get your dog’s attention, you can’t ask her to do anything! But if you can get your dog to pay attention – even (or especially) in the presence of distractions – you have a very powerful tool in your toolbox!

We know that we have a dog’s attention the same way we know that we have a person’s attention — when we have eye contact. We can train our dogs to shift their attention to us by training them to look us in the eye on cue … by saying their name. For some dogs this is intuitive and comes naturally; for others it is more difficult. But with time and persistence any dog can master this behavior.

I start out by capturing the behavior I want. I stand with the dog’s leash (so she can’t wander off) and wait. Eventually, she’s going to look up at me. When she does I say “Yes!” to let her know I like what she did and give her a treat. After a few times, she’s going to starting looking at me a bit more quickly each time.

After a few repetitions, she is probably pretty much staring at me. That’s when I start to toss the reward to her side to break the eye contact. This sets up the situation I need: I can now predict when she will look at me next. Then all I need to do is say her name as she turns back to me. Voila! I have effectively “taught” her to look at me as I say her name!

This short video demonstrates the technique:

Start out training this behavior in a quiet, low distraction environment and then gradually work your way up to more demanding environments. While practicing, remember: don’t repeat your dog’s name. If you repeat it too often she’ll either learn to tune it out or to only respond after you repeat it. If your dog is not responding, you have raised the distraction level too quickly. Back off and build your way up again.

Here’s a handout for practicing this exercise.

In my next guest post, we’ll work on impulse control.


Eric owns and runs Dog Spelled Forward dog training in Maywood, NJ. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA).

  • […] building a solid foundation of attention and eye contact, it’s time to start to developing impulse control. Impulse control doesn’t come […]

  • […] It’s been a busy week over at Dancing Dog Blog. Being a Pit Bull owner this post Pit Bull Law Defeated in Elgin!stood out for me. The town of Elgin has decided to place the responsibility of the actions of a dog, squarely on the shoulders of its owner, where it should be. Keeping your dog under control whether on leash or off, requires good communication between you and your dog. Usually that requires eye contact, which dog trainer Eric Goebelbecker of Dog Spelled Forward teaches how to do in this guest post. […]

  • its so relaxing to play with your pet

  • I had a sneak peek at this blog post, and I've been working with Buster on “asking” for what he wants (door open, food bowl, treats) by sitting and making eye contact. Today he proved that he knows what I'm up to – he went to the front door and “asked” me to let him inside, he then “asked” me to open the door to the guest bedroom, and finally he “asked” me to open the closet door. He then rooted around in the bag of dog toys and pulled out an old favorite that he hadn't seen in a while. I was laughing so hard – he's amazing!

  • Robert says:

    Great training technique! Thank you for sharing – eye contact is so key! Same in humans – if they aren't looking they aren't paying attention.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by MNBullyLovers: RT @RodBurkert: GoPetFriendly blog: Capturing Dog’s Attention Is Foundation of Dog Training http://ow.ly/1q5A97

  • What a great idea to have a series like this before vacation time starts rolling in earnest. Of course, we need to have these tools working in our homes and in dog parks, but I know a lot of people who get lax with the very tools that could help them keep their dog safe. Thanks!

    • You're absolutely right. If your dog doesn't perform well for you at home, she's unlikely to do well when you travel. Don't set a dog up for failure – make sure they are trained before they leave the house.

  • michelechollow says:

    I love how these training tips often carry over to training kids. We all respond better to eye contact.

  • […] View post: Capturing Dog's Attention Is Foundation of Dog Training […]

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