by Barbara DeGroodt
In last issue’s “Back to Basics” article, I said the first thing I teach my dogs is attention. I had several people ask how to do that, so let’s address it. This should be a fun and enjoyable lesson to learn and teach.
First, begin in a relatively quiet, distraction-free area. Get a really good treat; go all out for this one. Take the treat from your dog’s nose to your nose. Smile! If you lose your dog’s interest, begin again and go slowly for him if need be. If he makes contact with you for only a second, reward him with the treat. Tell him he’s a good boy, and SMILE. Do this several times until he holds his attention on you for several seconds. Don’t add a word yet. Don’t call his name. Let him make mistakes; let him figure out how he gets the treat.
Next, take a treat in both hands. Then move the treat to your right hand and hold it out to the side and wait. Most dogs will follow the treat eventually--just be patient. When he looks at you, give him a treat from your left hand. Now switch hands and do this for a couple of times. Still not ready to add a word…that will come later
Ok, feeling pretty good about this? Let’s bump it up another level. Now, we are going to play the “tennis” game. Take two treats and show them to your dog. Then pull the treats apart, to either side. Watch your dog go from one treat to the other, hence the name---“tennis” game. After a couple of “volleys,” your dog may look at you. Immediately give her the treats. Yes, both of them. Now do it again and see if she doesn’t look at you sooner.
You are developing an attention command, but wait; you’re not through with this exercise. The next step is to add distractions. Have someone in the room squeak a toy, move something, or whistle, but only once; don’t go for the big brass band yet. Don’t make the distraction so over-the-top that your dog can’t stand it. Always remember in training to add things slowly. Baby steps forward. Then, if you have a failure, you only need to back up a baby step. If you take great leaps of faith and you fail, you have a very large area to repair. With the distraction added, begin your three steps again. You will probably find that with each exercise that it gets easier each time you ratchet up the distraction.
You may now add a verbal command such as “watch me,” “look,” “eyes,” or whatever is to your liking. The words don’t mean anything to the dog until you associate them with an action anyway.
This command can then morph into a “Mother may I” command. You go to the door and your dog stares at the crack, waiting for the door to open, continues waiting for it, and BANG---she looks up at you, you smile and then open the door for her. Similarly, your dog sees you preparing his food; he runs to where he eats, looking at the spot where his dish should go; you stand there, w-a-i-t, until BINGO--- he looks up, and you smile and put his food dish down. Now he is beginning to “get it”---looking at you makes the world go round.
When he doesn’t know what to do, he may begin to look to you for information. This gives you the chance to tell him what is right and what isn’t. Be creative with this one. Have fun with it. I love when my dogs follow me with their eyes, always ready just in case I ask them to do something.
• If your dog has dark eyes you may need to hold the treat out further to see if he is looking at the treat or at you.
• Remember to look at your dog as if he’s a newborn baby, not your boss at work.
• If your dog jumps up to snatch the treat, use the leash and step on it so he can’t jump up.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.