Concentration before training

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.

20 responses

  1. Great little lesson here. So many people think they have their dog’s attention when they really don’t.

    I know Dora will learn quickly that her people are much more interesting than any old stinky squirrel.

  2. You all have had some awesome success! Dora is in very good hands. Attention is a very hard thing to learn for an excitable dog. I know that all too well. It takes a lot of patience on the human’s part, which is something I am still learning. Congratulations!

  3. I just LOVE her face…would so love to give her a big kiss! I too need to work on our attention skills. Especially with the new puppy mill foster. We are set to begin some obedience work with her and this looks like the logical place to start.

    • I just use iMovie, nothing fancy. I am hoping for a flip video camera for xmas, but for now I just use the video setting on my canon mini camera. It’s pretty low quality, but it does the trick for the most part.

  4. beautiful! thanks for the video. our girls are getting old (almost 15!) and we know we’ll be getting a pittie or two in the future, so it’s nice to see in action some training techniques!

    i have now watched all your videos and i want to thank you guys for all that you are doing for these dogs. it’s so obvious how much you genuinely love each of them.

    merry christmutt to all of you! 🙂

  5. I notice you’ve got an easy-walker type harness on Dora, how do you like it? We’re using a pinch collar on Kaylee right now, and while Oscar and Tucker both took to it right away, it doesn’t seem to do much for Kaylee. We tried out both an easy-walker harness and a gentle leader at the pet store the other day, but we’re not sure what do go with. Just wondered your thoughts on different walking devices?

    • It’s tough. I don’t really like easywalk harnesses OR pinch collars, but I have used both in the past. Many people abuse the pinch collar, but lots of reputable rescues use them and think they’re the best thing, as long as you NEVER yank on the collar when the dog is wearing it. I have successfully used the easywalk on some dogs, but some dogs just don’t care about the way it squeezes their shoulders together (like Dora), and it can actually cause shoulder injury if dog is stubborn and strong enough (not Dora).

      When I’m training, I only use a martingdale collar. I do use the easywalk as a crutch of sorts, either before I’ve started leash training or on walks where I know I won’t be able to do the necessary policing. That way the dog doesn’t get confused by the fact that sometimes it’s ok to be naughty and pull and sometimes it’s not. The martingdale comes out, and the dog knows that there are no bad manners allowed, and we are training. The harness means that it’s just a regular dog walk and she will get away with some imperfect behaviors. Does that make sense?

      • I use a similar set up with my dogs… I normally only have small fosters, but I teach loose-leash-walking for collars, but sometimes use a harness as a ‘do what you want’ in the interim (or if the dog is so small that I don’t really care if they pull, anyway).

        I find dogs learn discrimination with different training tools quite easily… For example, my Clover knows that you can pull on a harness (without a breast plate), you go tracking on a harness (with a breast plate), you loose leash walk on a collar, and you show and look pretty on a show lead.

  6. This is similar to what we’re working on with Brookie… she has no basic obedience knowledge and is very skiddish about learning it, so we’re taking baby steps with easy things, such as eye contact, to build her trust so she can learn how to sit.

  7. I just watched that video three times! This is something I’ve been working on with Reggie. NYC streets are so distracting, he doesn’t focus on me for long. I tried teaching him the Watch cue, and he will look at me, but not when there is a high amount of distraction. I’d never get him to watch me when there is a chicken bone in the street (or a slice of pizza as last night). I’d read about an approach to lose the Watch cue all together and just start rewarding him whenever he looks at me. Then he’ll be more inclined to keep focus on me as a natural inclination. So far, I’d say we’re successful only 25% of the time. But I still think the distractions would prove too tempting.

  8. Great video! Sometimes it’s important to go back to the basics like this even when we have dogs that are generally pretty attentive. There’s always something that distracts all dogs, so it’s good to work on eye contact exercises regularly. Dora has such a cute face!

  9. Dora sounds a whole lot like Skye. We still do focus training at work (in camp) and when she’s off leash. Many of my clients who are frustrated or discouraged with their dogs feel so much better after I teach their dogs to focus. It really makes all the difference!

  10. This post is perfectly timed … after bringing our foster McMuffin into the house were reminded that mayyyybe we have slacked a little lately with our main dog Reese’s focus training. Time for us to get back to work!

  11. This came at a perfect time! Chip being distracted was very frustrating during class and walks. I watched the video and *click* this would help sooo much. Started the concentration training and also rewarding him anytime he watches me voluntairly. It made a huge difference in class and on our walks. Keep up the wonderful work and keep posting your training tidbits!

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