“My dog ignores me!”
“My dog knows what I want. She’s blowing me off!”
“My dog doesn’t pay attention to me.”
Do these complaints sound familiar? Without our dogs’ attention, we can’t accomplish very much. Attention, just like any other behavior, can be reinforced and put on cue. In other words, attention can be trained.
How do we know when we have a dog’s attention? The same way we do with people: our good old friend eye contact. When I call my dogs’ names, I want them to look me in the eye. This may be as simple as lifting their heads off the ground or it may mean looking around and finding me.
Like any other behavior, we start out by training this in a low distraction environment and gradually build to using outside in more challenging situations. Rather than trying to lure the attention by showing the dog a treat, I usually try to capture looking at me. I stand with the dog’s leash and wait. At some point, he’s going to look up at me. When he does I say “Yes!” and give him a treat. Chances are he’s going to look at me at bit more quickly soon after.
After a few repetitions, the dog is pretty much staring at me. That’s when I start to toss the reward to break the eye contact. This sets up the situation I need: I can now predict when he will look at me. All I need to do is say his name just before we make contact.
Here is a very condensed video:
I also have a handout that covers this exercise.