The Name Game
Every dog needs to know his name, and not just so he doesn’t have an identity crisis. You will need your dog’s name to get his attention. Your dog’s name will mean “look at me and wait for further instructions”. It is okay for your dog to come when you say his name, but his name does not mean he has to come.
Have plenty of tasty treats, say your dog’s name one time. When he looks at you, Click and Treat. If your dog does not look at you don’t say his name again. Instead make a noise to get his attention, then Click and Treat.
Even if your dog is looking at you already, you can say his name then Click and Treat. This teaches your dog that his name is a very good thing. Repeat this game a dozen times, then test his response by waiting until he looks away to say his name. If he has learned good name response, his head will snap back toward you when he hears his name. If that doesn’t happen, keep playing the game.
Attention Training
You also want your dog to volunteer focusing his attention on you, even if you haven’t asked for it. Focus is a learned behavior and is the foundation of everything you’ll ever teach your dog. If you cannot get and maintain your dog’s attention, how can you expect to teach him anything?
Attention is both physical and mental. The physical aspect of attention is that your dog will keep his eyes and ears focused on you, the mental aspect is that your dog keeps his mind focused on you. Attention is interactive: the better you pay attention to your dog, the better your dog will pay attention to you.
To begin teaching this important skill, have your dog on lead in a low distraction environment. To prevent your dog from wandering, have the lead on the ground and stand on it with one foot. Don’t say anything, simply wait until your dog looks at you, then Click and Treat. As long as your dog keeps his attention on you, keep clicking and rewarding. Slowly increase the time between clicks. When your dog will focus his attention on you for ten seconds or more, begin adding mild distractions. Remember, the goal is to get your dog to offer his attention to you, not for you to have to beg for his attention.
Eye Contact In 5 Seconds
There are times when you will want to have your dog make eye contact with you. Teaching him to do this on cue will serve as a “reminder” if he becomes distracted. It also acts as a great “default” behavior. A default behavior is one that your dog offers when he is unsure what you’d like him to do.
Have your dog sit in front of you and show him a treat in your hand. Move your hands behind your back. Usually dogs will glance to both sides of your body before looking up at you as if to say “Well, where is it?”. As soon as your dog looks up and makes eye contact with you, Click and Treat. Don’t say anything to get your dog’s attention and do expect that he will try to look for the food. If your dog gets up or tries to find something else to interest him, simply start over again, perhaps using a higher value treat. Some dogs may avoid the issue by looking around or dropping their head. Just wait this out and be ready to Click and Treat immediately when your dog does make eye contact.
Once your dog will readily give you eye contact for several seconds at a time add the verbal cue “Watch me”.