As a dog trainer, I think this one of the most important foundations to successful dog training. If you have your dog’s attention, you can start to communicate to them what you need. If they are running towards a busy road, you need them to hear your voice and you need them to listen to you. If they are running towards at a snarling dog on a lead, you need them to listen. if you want them to sit politely whilst you open the door to a postman, you need them to want to listen and this all starts with focus games.
Sounds easy? It is (with a bit of training and a lot of consistency) So where to start? Start with the watch or watch me command. Take a treat, start with it by your eyes, quickly move it towards your dog’s nose, back to your eyes and then reward them for looking at you. Once you have them doing this successfully over a few days, start adding the words. Dogs don’t speak our language so don’t confuse them by adding in the word at the start of training a command, there are lots of reasons why this won’t work, (see our basic training blog for more information) then repeat this as part of your training exercises. You can use this in so many circumstances but this forms a very solid foundation for your dog bringing their attention both physically and mentally to you.
If they are running towards that car and they hear you shouting commands that normally bring physical focus on to you, they will swing their head round towards you, rather than keep running. This can be a life saver. We teach the emergency stop in classes which is so vital but if a dog is used to giving you attention, regardless of the situation or whether they know the command stop, you don’t have to worry the same.
One way I like to introduce this to dog owners is explain it in terms that we as humans can understand. If I use the example of the words free doughnuts and I don’t want to speak for everyone here but if I heard that, I would be swinging my head round quickly and walking towards someone shouting it. Why would I do this? Because if someone wanted to give me a free doughnut, I’d be mad not to go get it. This is why we use high value treats to start dog training, we want to be able to say something and the dog react like we as humans would, if we were offered a free doughnut!