Focus, it doesn’t just happen…
“Wow, she must really love you!”
“She never takes her eyes off you.”
“It’s like nothing else exists but you.”
“He is just so focused on your every move.”
I get comments like these all the time from people.
I also hear:
“My dog is so ADD! He has no focus”
“Rex is all over the place and completely distracted”
“I simply don’t exist if there is another dog around”
Unlike sit, intense focus just doesn’t happen on its own from most dogs. It takes work and time to build up the type of focus and attention I get from my dogs. It is not terribly difficult but it does take a level of commitment… and one has to be prepared for the results–even the not always as desirable results.
Between Shayne and Rio, unless they are sleeping, I always have at least one of them staring holes in my head. They are constantly watching me, looking at me, and anticipating my movement. If I even look like I’m going to get up or shut my lap top, my dogs are on top of it (and me). They could look like they are dead asleep but somehow they are still watching my every move. Sometimes it’s a little creepy to look around to have two dogs laying on their beds apparently asleep but upon closer inspection, I see two dogs whose half-open eyes are locked onto me. Sometimes it gets annoying… y’know I almost always have that feeling that I’m being watched…well, because I am, I can’t go to the bathroom without two assistants, and I sometimes wish they’d stop staring at me as I do daily things like watch tv, shower, type, etc.. But nothing tops it during training classes when other dogs are all over the place distracted, I don’t even have to look at my dogs to know their eyes are on me regardless of what else is going on in the class. In the real world I have two dogs who frequently offer me eye contact and who remember I exist. They are also pretty awesome off-leash because even 30-40yd away, they will still stop and “check in” by giving me eye contact while they are exploring.
While I do have two dogs whose breed lineage would suggest a natural tendency toward focusing on something, I have still had to build that focus. I work on building focus in a wide variety of ways.
Be less boring
As strange as this sounds, part of the reason dogs ‘check out’ is simply because the humans are not nearly as exciting as everything else. So, to start being ‘cooler’ in my dogs’ eyes, I play a lot of interactive games. I play hide and seek, play tug, play training games, learn a sport like agility/frisbee… anything to make me seem more awesome in my dogs’ eyes. The more interesting I become to my dogs, the more likely they will want to engage with me.
Build your value
By playing interactive games you are building your value in your dogs eyes, you are now also a source of great fun! I like to do a lot of hand feeding… as a way to build my value–I become like the gateway to all of the cool things they want (toys, food, games, access to the outside etc). I will play hard to get at times… when the dogs want to play, I won’t necessarily play. Sometimes the pups have to wait until I am ready for a game of tug. I also use eye contact as the “key” to getting to go outside or getting their dinner… once they offer me eye contact they get what they want. It is just another way to build the value of giving me eye contact. One of my favorite games is eye-contact for the ball… it is only through giving me focus that they get the ball… they learn not to look at the ball but to look at me!
Work on attention cues
You want to start laying the foundation that looking at you means awesome things happen. During training sessions, start working with luring the eye contact, or saying their name to get their attention… you want to condition looking at you to mean good things will happen.
Creative use of the “jackpot”
This may be the most important trick up my sleeve. When your dog is least suspecting, jackpot any focus they give you. This is NOT about giving a cue, or letting the dog know you want them to look at you. So don’t say “watch me” or call the dogs name. Simply go about your normal business. When you see your dog orient to you (even if somewhat fleeting), mark that moment and jack pot that moment (a fast repetition of treats for 10-20 seconds or so or treats being dropped over time, so dropping like 10-15 pieces of yum). I would try to not keep food on your person, but instead hide food in areas where you spend a lot of time with the dogs. You don’t want your pup figuring out that you only reward when you have food on your person… so keep stores of food around OR mark the behavior you want and RUN to the fridge to get the reward. I truly think THIS is my secret for the type of attention I get from my dogs. After a few HUGE jackpots during random times for offering eye contact they seem to throw me eye contact all the time in hopes of getting that jackpot again, “maybe this time it will happen!”
Focus doesn’t just happen. You have to train it and condition it. Your dog isn’t ADD, he is simply not trained or conditioned that looking at you makes AWESOME things happen.