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Building our dogs attention

Our dogs attention is the foundation for all training

Building our dogs attention on us.


Building the focus and attention of our dogs is the foundation on which learning can take place. Without our dog’s attention, no teaching is likely to take place. They will be distracted on other things around them. I divide this into two types of attention behaviour — the first requested attention or name recognition. We call our dog’s name, and they stop what they are doing and focus on us — the second, automatic focus. This automatic behaviour is voluntary, where our dog’s ‘check-in’ with us.


As with all training, the most important thing to remember is that training takes time and consistency. Be consistent with rewarding the choices we want our dogs to continue to use and keep it fun for all.


Building our dogs attention on us: How to train Name Recognition

We want to start in an environment where our dogs can easily give us their attention. At home in a quiet room is a great choice. As we progress our training, the environment can become more distracting. As always, we want to set our dog’s up for success at each stage of training. Have some tasty rewards ready in your hand. We want this to be fun for our dog’s try with ten rewards in the beginning. Rewards in hand we prepared to start:


  1. Get’s your dog’s interest by showing them a reward.
  2. Roll the reward out to the side for them to follow.
  3. As soon, as they have finished eating it. Say your dog's name.
  4. When they look in your direction, use their ‘marker’.
  5. Then roll another reward out in a different direction.
  6. Repeat from number three until all ten rewards have been used and take a break.

Training Tips:

  • Initially, roll the treats out side to side. So your dog is always in front of you. Once, they have this stage. Start mixing it up — some out to the side, some behind you, some near and some far.
  • If your dog starts to lose motivation to look at your quickly. Reduce the number of repetitions. If ten times is too many, try six or four. Your dog is an individual adjust the training to suit their stage. Build strong foundations first, then build more on top later.
  • If your dog doesn’t respond, choose a more relaxed



Building our dogs focus: How to train Automatic Focus

With automatic focus, we are teaching our dog’s to ‘check in’ with us without us asking them for their attention. This option may seem like a strange thing to train. However, think of when our dogs are off-lead. Happily investigating those wonderful smells or playing with another dog. If we have trained them to check in with us, we have a much easier time calling them back or giving other instructions. Auto-focus can also be used as a check-in before doing something from our dog’s. Initial training would start at home:


  1. Have four tasty rewards in your hand
  2. Walk into the room where your dog is
  3. Stand still without looking directly at your dog
  4. When they look in your direction, use their marker
  5. Roll one of the rewards out in any direction
  6. Repeat from step three until you’ve used all four rewards


Training Tips:

  • As this is a voluntary behaviour, we can straight away start using everywhere. Mark and reward whenever your dog chooses to ‘check in’ with you by looking at you.
  • Start to use it when your dog would like to do something. For example, we are walking down the path, and our dog wants to sniff a tree. Stand still with your dog on the lead until they look at you. Use their marker for looking at you, then walk with your dog to the tree. It’s a ‘please can I’ and ‘of cause’ type conversation.
  • Once we can have this conversation with our dogs. You’ll find it much more fluid when outdoors, even if the reply from you needs to be ‘no sorry’ on occasion. Try your best to keep it that the ‘of cause we can’ outweigh the ‘No sorry’s’.


Life with our dogs is about communication, not domination!

Creating conversation opportunities between our dog’s and ourselves empowers everyone. It gives us confidence in both our ability to communicate with our dog and control of them when needed. It provides our dog confidence to ask questions and understand our responses.


When we have the basic’s, of both name recognition and automatic focus, progress these behaviours into everyday life situations. Reduce the food reward element and use life rewards instead.


Have fun with your training.

If you're having trouble progressing your training why not book an Online, 1-2-1 Training or Behaviour session.


Live Together, Learn Together and have fun together.

About Iain Sneddon

Passionate about helping owners and their dogs understand each other. Promoting non-aversive training methods. I am committed to continued learning. Constantly attending both training and behaviour workshops and seminars with world-leading specialists. Enjoy sharing science and ideas for improving training methods and welfare for canines.

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