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Paying Attention - a Training Exercise for Puppies and Dogs

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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!


(Reproduced with Permission from http://www.PositivePetzine.com )

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? See the previous
issue "Secrets of Dog Training Professionals - Why Use Food?" 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!

I think this is exactly what we need.

I've been having lots of trouble getting Honey to pay attention to me and this exercise sounds like something that may just work. Now to find a treat that she's willing to work for :-)

Aidan Bindoff's picture

re: I think this is exactly what we need.

Glad you like it! I recommend food as the universal reinforcer because all dogs need to eat. I do cut rations (sometimes completely) when I know that I will be training with food.




why pay attention

Aidan, what a great blog. what you left out though is why paying attention can be so useful! Emma Parson's has turned paying attention into a great way to deal with fearful and agressive dogs.... a dog paying attention to his human partner is less likely to take off after a cat or squirrel, and it will be easier to elicit other clickable behaviors! All in all paying attention is way better than being ignored in anyone's book I think...