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Building focus

I am frequently asked the question about how to deal with a dog who doesn’t acknowledge that there is a handler at the end of the leash when outside.  It takes patience, cheese/chicken/hotdogs, a clicker, and time.  It’s actually pretty simple, but it does take time.  I am not entirely sure students ever believe me when I tell them how simple it is… but it’s really a simple process.  Basically all good things come through offering attention to the handler while outside.

Chase is easily over stimulated and has quite a bit of prey drive so he is totally distracted while outside.  He had zero leash training and zigged, zagged, spun, and wrapped me up all the time.  Never once would he even look back to me while he ran around like a madman.  Before I could ever begin to work on his loose-leash-walking skills, I’d have to work on his ability to look to me.

So, I went outside with a pouch full of treats, and a clicker and I waited.  For the video I was moving around a bit so I wasn’t blocking Chase (so the camera would catch him when he offered attention) but normally I’d just go outside and wait for him to eventually turn to me.  Any time he offered attention, I’d click and treat him.  If his attention stayed on me, he got rapid fire click/treats… if he got distracted again, no biggies, just wait for him to offer attention again. The very first time I practiced this I stood outside with Chase on a 4ft leash for just over 5 minutes until he turned around to look at me, then 3 minutes, then 30 seconds, and then I gave him a break .  The second time (which is in the video) it took him just about 3 minutes to look to me the first time, then he was with me for the most part except for a few moments with big distractions but nothing more than a minute.   In just three session I went from a dog who didn’t even know I existed to having a dog who had some nice sustained focus!

Starting with the focus work and then leading into a “follow me” game, I’ll show you how I introduce the idea of a loose leash walk with Chase.  Again, he came to me with zero leash manners and he’s already on his way to a nice loose leash walk.
Here’s a video of the attention/focus building work and how that leads into a nice loose leash walk!

LASTLY, keep Chase in your thoughts.  He’s going in for his neuter today …I’m sure he’ll be fine but I always worry when a dog is being put under anesthesia.

18 Comments
  1. good luck to Chase on his neutering 🙂 And great video – I’m going to have to use this method to reinforce Gwynn’s loose-leash – maybe that’ll get him to stop trying to chase cats so much.

    • Thanks!! It went well! It’s a really great tool to building value for interacting with you… it doesn’t take long for the game to be rewarding in its own right!

  2. Will keep Chase in my thoughts today. I am always amazed at how fast and effective clicker training can be. Didn’t take Chase long to figure out that looking at you was pretty fun! We have been doing something similar with Pearl and while we are far from perfect we are making a lot of progress. Thanks for the video- I may tweak some of what we are doing after watching how you progressed from the “follow me” game to something that looked more like loose leash walking.

    • He says thank you but would rather you spring him from the joint! LOL! Clicker training is really amazing… rewarding good choices… makes them more likely to happen again! LLW is really just a game of follow me but in the same direction… it gets to the point where you can reward LLW w/ a game of backwards follow me, which is fun!

  3. One of my trainers uses that exact method to teach attention and loose leash walking. Yup, it’s very simple, and all you need is patience. Hope all goes well with his neuter today!

    • I have really liked using this …it’s simple enough mechanics wise that my students pick up on it well and have had lots of success! All went well (from my perspective not his) today for his neuter!

  4. The first exercise we do in our basic obedience class is “assumed attention” where you basically just wait your dog out and reward for the tiniest hint of focus. Back when Cohen was a pup (and I was not yet working there) she was the one dog in the class who had not given me any attention by the end of the allotted time. And now, of course, she’s a focus-monster and can watch me anywhere. People don’t believe me when I said she and I struggled through our first ever training exercise. I think it serves as a good measure of how much a dog/handler team can improve if you put the work into it!

    • absolutely… i mean i struggled for ever a week to teach chase his name… i felt like the worlds least effective trainer ever because it’s such a simple thing yet we were struggling. It’s still not stellar but we are getting there… but it’s still something we’ve struggled with and I really have liked having to work through it (even though there were moments i felt so incompetent LOL!)

  5. I wish I had known this stuff when I got Risa. I was the ‘leash anchor’ for a long time. Chase caught on really quick! Wishing him a safe neuter.

    • He wishes there was no neuter! 🙂 he’s shown lots of promis in just 3 sessions… it’s no where near done or proofed but when walking him into the clinic this morning, he was all over the place but twice engaged me in eye contact which is two times more than he ever did before doing this work LOL!

  6. Great job, Chase! (And Tena!) And good luck today during the neuter!

  7. Aw, that’s great! How long does it take for him to remember all that? Next time you take him out, I assume he’ll be faster & faster to focus on you … but how long (guesstimate) until he is able to LLW consistently?

    • It would really depend how frequently i’m working the behavior and how strict i’m being with other management rules regarding LLW (like u-turning if he starts to pull too much, or waiting for attention etc). If i were to practice 5-10 minutes every day in a variety of venues, I suspect it wouldn’t take too long but it really does all depend.

      He’s faster to give the initial attention each time we go out (the last time was literally 45 seconds and that was largely because he had to find a pee-spot) and he’s able to maintain focus for much longer.

  8. So need to work on focus with my current foster pup. He’s 10 months, and has great focus…on my food pouch, on his dog bowl….everywhere BUT me. 🙂

    • Patience and a bathroom lol… go in a bathroom and just wait for him to give you eye contact… then click/treat and repeat LOL 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing this great video! Now I have something to show people when they ask for advice on loose-leash walking. A picture is always better than my long-winded attempt at an explanation. This is perfect. 🙂

    Good luck with the surgery! I hope all goes well!

    • Glad you like it… i’ve been really happy with his progress with everything actually … he’s a great little dog! So much potential!

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