Would you believe that dogs don’t transfer behaviors from one place to another? You’ve probably noticed that your dog is perfect inside listening to commands and giving you full attention and then once outside things change dramatically? Is this unusual?
Think of it this way, when you are outside of the home or your children do they get distracted? Do you have trouble getting them off the playground or out of Best Buy where they are fixated on the gaming systems?
With so many wonderful distractions even for us wit our cell phones, we need to start somewhere. The first step in getting attention from our dog is to put the phone away. I find this challenging at times but it is a must. Next is to begin teaching attention. For us it can be mindful meditation and learning to focus on one task instead of many. For our dogs it means getting their undivided attention.
I start with teaching the LOOK command in a quiet place indoors. This is a process. I bring a soft treat to my eyes and when I get eye contact from the dog I mark with YES and treat. I do this about 10 times and then add a distraction like simply putting the food to the side and then asking for eye contact. If the dog does not get it I start again from the beginning. Once this is mastered we begin moving outdoors and gradually increase the distractions. As it becomes more challenging it is necessary to make sure the dog is very hungry and the treats are of very high value like real chicken or steak.
When training outdoors it is essential that the dog be comfortable. There are some that have anxiety or fear issues which can interfere with attention. Create a safe space when teaching these skills and work slowly toward your goals keeping distractions at a distance and working up to closer proximity. If necessary contact your veterinarian and discuss options for the anxious dog.
Another helpful tool when teaching attention is to use your body by moving and becoming a subject of interest. Use your voice and sudden movements to get your dog to think you are the most interesting thing in the area. Another way to get attention is to teach a behavior like TOUCH and reinforce it when in different settings. I like teaching dogs tricks since they are fun and create attention.
What also helps with teaching attention is to build leadership skills by having your dog earn all of his rewards. This is not that hard when you consider they can earn meals, going through the door and getting on the couch.
Remember that just like with us our dogs can often become distracted but with patience and encouragement we can build a better bond and our dogs will learn that we are far more interesting than this distractions.
Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT), Consultant for Pet Therapy, Writer for AKC Family Dog and Gazette, Owner of Canines Can Do. Dorice has trained dogs since childhood and her dogs have received many national and international awards. She was mentored by master trainer, Bill Delaney and continues to study with international competitors and renowned trainers Betsy Scapicchio and Diane Goodspeed. She is a certified evaluator for the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program and an evaluator for the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs. She was elected into the International Honor Society for Teaching, and participates in AKC and CKC performance events.