At K9 Connection Dog Training, one of the most important things that we teach our dogs is to pay attention to the handler. This is a crucial part of any successful training program, but what does attention really mean?
Attention can mean different things, or perhaps more appropriately, it can come in varying degrees. For instance: when I get home from work, one of the first things I do is check my email. Now imagine that one day as I am checking my email, my wife walks in and says “Tyler, the garbage really needs to go out.”
I turn to her and respond “Sure honey, I’ll take it out in one sec, just as soon as I’m done reading this message.”
So, in a sense, she got my attention, because I heard her, turned and looked at her, and responded. But most of my attention was still on my email which is why I sat and continued reading. If my mind were a pie chart, my wife maybe had 20% of my attention diverted to her and what she wanted me to do, and 80% was still on the email. I f she were somehow able to reverse that pie chart, and get 80% of my attention on her, then I would have gotten up and taken the garbage, because I would have had enough brain power left to focus on the email.
This is very often what is going on with our dogs when they don’t perform a known command. They’re not trying to be jerks, they are just distracted, and we are unable to redirect their attention adequately. This is usually when we start raising our voice or yanking on a leash. This of course does not solve the problem. Likewise, where most training programs fail, is a over-reliance treats. While treats can be effective as teaching tools to lure a dog into a new position, or reward appropriate behavior, all too often dog trainers and clients alike rely too much on the treat to attract and hold the dogs attention. What happens here is that the dog learns to pay attention to the treat, but never effectively learns to pay attention to the handler. Once the treats are removed from the picture, you are left with a dog who displays zero attention span, and who perhaps will perform a known command in the quiet of her own home where there is not anything more interesting, but soon as you change the environment, or introduce real distractions, it’s almost as if she’s not trained at all.
This is why we place so much importance on teaching attention. It is the overarching condition to all obedience. With clear understanding and proper attention, there’s no reason your dog should not perform a known command.