Before you can proceed to any basic training of your dog, you must teach him to focus. It is a good idea to begin your initial training by taking your dog into a quiet and familiar environment where he will be least distracted, thereby obtaining the greatest level of focus. Focus is the single most important command to teach your dog. If your dog is looking away from you, he is listening to what he is looking at. Distractions are a large part of life, and you need to teach your dog to ignore them and pay attention to you.
More often than not, a new dog owner will ask why they cannot simply use their dog's name in order to achieve focus. The answer is that on a daily basis, you will use your dog's name for many different purposes. Worse yet, you will probably yell his name at him when he is doing something wrong - much the same way your parents yelled your name at you when you were a misbehaving kid. Your dog is not a child, and if you scream his name at him in a harsh manner, he is sure to stop responding positively to his name.
The term you will use to teach your dog focus will be a consistently positively reinforced term. He will first learn to look at you on command no matter what is going on around him. Next, he will come to you when you call instead of running away off to who knows where. Here are the beginning steps necessary to teach attention:
1. Begin training your dog when he has not had any personal contact with you for several hours. Mornings are great because you generally have had no contact with him overnight. A dog who has had minimal contact is more likely to want to give you his attention when the opportunity presents itself. Walk your dog before starting the session. Do not play with him or talk too much, just put him on a lead and walk him for elimination purposes. Afterward, take your dog back into the house so you may begin his training. Keep a leash on him so that you can retain an element of control.
2. We will be using food as a reward for this exercise. It is very important that you know what types of edible reinforce snacks will work on your dog. A hungry dog will be motivated by food, whereas a well-fed dog may show disinterest. Do not feed your dog his meal before training.
3. You will be teaching the dog to look at your face on command and a good reason for him to look at your face could be that there is great food falling out of your mouth. You could spit out little bits of cheese or hot dogs or cereal at your dog - whatever food works for him. If you have a small-breed dog or young puppy, you may get on your knees and show your dog a cracker hanging out of your mouth. When he notices the food, you can let him take a little bit from your mouth.
4. Typically commands such as Ready, Look or Focus are used. Any command you wish to use is fine, just be sure to be consistent with your terms. Your dog's name should be used prior to giving the focus command. Making a little clicking sound from your mouth after your command will help to teach your dog to look at you.
So, the order of the procedure is: A) Dog's name. B) Command - Ready. C) Clicking sound from mouth. D) Reward as your dog gives you attention. E) Release from steady command - Okay or Free.
Practice this constantly and reward your dog for it. Demand longer periods of focus, as well as focus with distractions. Increase the distraction level while demanding short focus duration. After you have achieved focus at high levels of distraction, such as someone calling your dog, you can move along increasing focus time. When commanded to look at your face, your dog must offer continued focus to you until released or commanded to the next task.
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