We’ve been spoiled with our last few foster dogs, who were very mellow in temperament and had no trouble at all focusing. Dora the Explorer also has a great temperament, but she has a bit more confidence and determined curiosity about the world. This makes her an absolute joy to be around, but also makes her rather excitable in the fascinating great outdoors.
We normally work on loose leash walking as one of our first tasks as foster dog parents. Dora isn’t a terrible leash walker, but when she sees something exciting — be it a cat, a squirrel, or a leaf, rock, stump, or paper bag that looks like a cat or a squirrel, she’s at the end of her leash. Getting her attention back sometimes takes a minute.
Anybody who has worked with a distractable dog knows that if you don’t have a dog’s attention, you’re not going to have much luck teaching it a new skill. So after a few futile attempts at leash walking lessons, we realized we had to bring it all the way back to basics: eye contact, basic attention, and impulse control.
Before we had any hope of getting Dora to pay attention to us outside, we had to teach her how to pay attention inside. Making eye contact when your name is called may seem intuitive to humans, but it is not at all intuitive to dogs. They have to learn it. Once they have mastered eye contact in a distraction-free setting, distractions can be introduced, one after another. These distractions can be as simple as background noise from an open window, another family member walking around, or a ball rolling across the room. As the dog learns to focus among these, the distractions can get more challenging: treats thrown on the floor, a bird walking around in the yard outside, etc. Gradually the lessons can move onto the driveway, then onto the sidewalk, and finally, you may find yourself with a dog who will make eye contact when called even amidst the holy grail of all distractions: a chicken bone in the street or a cat darting under a car.
Here’s a very basic video of the most primary of these steps. We are feeling pretty good about moving our own dog and hotdog show out into the front yard in another few days. Check out this girl’s eye contact. Pretty rockin’, right?
For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.