Teaching Attention as a Behavior
Excerpt from When Pigs Fly by Jane Killon
Automatic attention is the mother of all behaviors and one of the first things you should teach your dog. There is no point in teaching your dog how to do things if he is going to ignore you when you ask him to do them. If your dog is off in a mentally distant land and you repeatedly call his name, you are just like static in the background to him. The only thing you will have accomplished is to devalue his name. Even if you got yourself one of the excellent dog training books out there and followed the instructions in it exactly, you would probably find that your Pigs Fly dog still doesn’t preform when you want him to. That is often because he is not paying attention to you.
Lack of attention is often, sadly, the issue that causes owners to give up on their “impossible” dogs. Take heart! Training a dog to have attention is absolutely no different than training a dog to sit or dome when called. You are not going to get a “gimme” when it comes to attention. You are going to have to train it like any other behavior and that means more work for you. The good news is that it can be trained and, once you have your dog’s attention, anything is possible.
You are not going to teach an “attention” cure or command. Attention is going to become your dog’s default behavior, and you will not have to ask for it with nagging commands. Teaching a dog a verbal cue to pay attention implies that is OK for him not to pay attention unless she gets the verbal cue. Instead, if your dog is with you, he should be conditioned to watch you like a hawk all the time because he never knows when you might do something interesting or fun. If you call your dog to you, or take him out on a leash, you should become the center of his universe and his eyes should be pretty much glued to you whenever you are together. How will you get that attention? By free shaping it, of course. You have already laid the foundation for attention in your powering up the clicker exercise, now you just need to make sure you have that same attention everywhere you go, no matter what is going on.
For more advice on training impossible (and not-so-impossible) dogs, purchase Jane Killon’s When Pigs Fly! Training Success with Impossible Dogs from Your Dog.