Paying Attention A Training Exercise for Puppies and Dogs

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Paying Attention A Training Exercise for Puppies and Dogs

by Aidan Bindoff

Does your dog know how to pay attention to you? Here is a simple training exercise you can use this week to teach your dog how to pay attention to you in all situations. By the end of the week, your puppy or dog will be paying more attention to you - guaranteed!

We're going to use the principle of Positive Reinforcement to teach this behavior, through a simplified process known by animal trainers and behaviorists as 'Shaping'.

Shaping is when we 'shape' a behavior like a piece of clay. We start off with something simple and mold it into something we can use. It's not difficult to do using positive reinforcement, but we need to be able to relax a little and trust the process.

What we're going to start off reinforcing is any effort made by our dog to pay any sort of attention to us. That means any glance in our general direction, or even a step towards us. We're going to be quiet and still and wait for our dogs to do this - do not try to get your dog's attention during this exercise.

The reinforcer we will use is food. Why use food? Click here to find out.

We're going to work in 10 minute sessions using a Rate of Reinforcement of 1 food treat every 10 seconds, so we need 60 treats. Count out 70 just in case you need more. The reason we count out our treats is so that we know that we are reinforcing simple enough behaviors. Many trainers wait for too much to begin with, and the dog doesn't learn as much as he could. If you have any more than 10 treats left over at the end of a 10 minute session, then you're asking for too much and need to relax your criteria a little.

We need to find safe areas to let our dog off-lead where we don't have to worry about cars, or losing our untrained dog. The more of these safe areas we can think of within driving distance the better, because the more times and places we do this exercise over the next week or so the more effective this exercise will be. Dog parks at quiet times, dog-friendly beaches, friend's houses, and sports grounds are some of the places you can use.

If you can't think of a safe area to let your dog off-lead then use a long leash, but don't use the leash to get your dog's attention.

Once we get to our safe area, we can let our dog off-leash (first checking that it is safe to do so). If our dog glances at us, looks at us, or walks towards us (even just a step) then we praise "good dog!" (or click our clicker if we have one) and toss a food treat (just one).

When our 10 minutes is up or we're out of treats, we can collect our dog and go home.

The more we can repeat this exercise, and in as many different locations as possible - the better.

Trouble Shooting

"My dog won't eat the treats" Make sure you're using something he really likes, even if it is something you wouldn't normally give him. Cheese, chicken and ham are often favourites. Don't try this after a meal, you could even withhold a meal to build hunger. Some dogs won't take treats because they are stressed. Find a quieter location, it could be that other dogs, people or noises are upsetting your dog. You can try this location again later.

"I can't possibly give all 60-70 treats" Chances are, you can, but you're just not yet trained to see the little things which are worth reinforcing at this early stage of training. Watch carefully and relax your criteria. The briefest glance in your direction, or an accidental step towards you are worth paying.

"I run out of treats before the 10 minutes is up" Congratulations! This is a good sign. Now you can start increasing your criteria. Wait for your dog to take more steps towards you, or to "check in" with you. Or find a busier location.

A dog who has learned to "check in" and keep an eye on you is a dog who is ready for more advanced training, so this exercise is a worthwhile foundation and I hope you and your dog enjoy it!

Aidan Bindoff is Editor of Positive Petzine, a FREE resource for people training their own dog. Positive Petzine contains helpful step-by-step articles on dog training, puppy-raising, doggy activities and other fun and useful stuff presented in an easy to understand and use format.

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