Depending on the situation your dog can have an extremely short attention span. And in those situations, often times we humans are asking our dogs to jump through hoops. Okay, maybe not literally jump through hoops, but in a situation where we can barely get our dog's attention, the last thing that we need to be asking for is more advanced things like sitting or lying down.
The first skill that needs to be worked on is a cue that gets the dog to look at the human. This is often referred to as a "watch me" cue. This is the first thing I recommend teaching to your dog. I don't currently have a video on it so I will do my best to explain it. Firstly, start teaching new cues in your own home. Do this in a room that has limited distractions. (eg cats, dogs, other humans etc.) Start off by taking a small piece of food that your dog finds enticing and bring it to your dog's nose. From there, take that piece of food up to your eye and wait for your dog to make eye contact. When he does, tell him "good" and give him the the small food reward. Do this a handful of times until your dog is really getting it. From there, you're ready to move onto the next step.
The next step is getting this new behavior on a hand signal. For this, you will mimic the same motion you made with the food, but without the food in your hand. Basically, you'll point at your dog's nose and then up to your eye. Once your dog follows your finger and looks into your eyes, tell him "good" and then give him a small food reward from your treat pouch. Do this a handful of times until your dog is really nailing it. From there, you're ready for the next step.
The next step is adding a verbal cue for this new behavior. I say, "watch." To introduce this new cue, say the word, "watch," wait a few seconds, and then do the hand signal that you previously introduced. Reward your dog for following the hand signal. Do rep after rep and before you know it your dog will be looking into your eyes when you say the cue, "watch."
Why did I go into such depth on how to teach this behavior? Because this is what you really need to be working on if your dog is easily distracted. Teach this to your dog in your home in a room that has limited distractions like I mentioned above. From there, teach this to your dog in the back yard, and then the front yard. Start off at the very first step when starting in a more challenging environment if your dog needs it. The end goal is to get your dog to respond to the verbal cue in any environment.
Here's the takeaway:
This will make your life a lot easier. To make this successful, do lots of reps with lots of reinforcement. (Reinforcement in this case means food rewards.) If you pay your dog, your dog will continue to work for you. Just make sure you're using something that your dog really enjoys. Working on a very solid foundation of a watch cue is the place to start. If your dog is looking into your eyes, he's not looking around at everything else.
"Watch" as taught by Jean Donaldson, The Academy For Dog Trainers
In order to motivate your dog you must provide things your dog likes as payment for doing what you ask. This is known as Positive Reinforcement. By providing this payment your dog is more likely to repeat those behaviors in the future. The easiest form of payment is small food rewards. Other things like toys, play, praise, and petting can be used as well depending on the situation and what is motivating the dog at the moment.
Kelly and I work with hundreds and hundreds of different people and their dogs each year. The people that have the most success with training their dogs are the ones that pay their dogs a hefty salary. The more payment you give, the more behavior you will receive.
When I first got into dog training I was a punishment based trainer. I really didn't give rewards at all. In fact, I "rewarded" the dog by not giving corrections. It's something I feel bad about to this day, but I can't change the past. Transitioning from no rewards to starting to use rewards consisted of me keeping a stick of string cheese in my pocket and slowly and frugally doling out the tiniest of rewards. Since then I've transitioned to wearing a treat pouch and doling out treats at a rate of reinforcement that I've only seen Kelly offer. Since I've started using this high rate of reinforcement I've noticed that the clients I work with our getting better results. (If they follow my lead.) A great example is the Reactive Dogs class we had last night. Cooper the pit bull keeps his eyes glued to his mom. He wasn't always like this. When we had him in Basic Manners 1 he was hard to handle. Last night in the final Reactive Dogs class he kept his eyes glued his mom and didn't even bat an eye at another dog. Why? Because Alexis pays Cooper a very high salary. (Everyone in the class did awesome, just Cooper really stuck out seeing his transformation.)
Paying a dog isn't bribery, it's the laws of learning. Animals, human or dog, repeat behaviors that provide good consequences. If a dog is paid for holding a down stay on a mat a few feet from the dinner table, he will most likely stay on that mat. This is a lot more effective and stress free than yelling at the dog to "go lie down" repeatedly. This is just one example.
Don't be stingy. Pay that dog. Find something your dog likes and use it as payment for the behaviors you like. If you want your dog to really respond to what you ask, don't pay him minimum wage, give him a six figure salary.
"My dog won't listen to me." "Treats aren't working."
You've finally mustered up the strength and courage to take your dog for a walk. Your arm is still recovering from nearly being dislocated from the previous walk that took place 30 days prior. So what's going to make this walk any better? What can you do? You've tried treats, collars etc. Why aren't they working?
What it really comes down to is the novelty of these experiences. When dogs don't get the opportunity to saturate it can be extremely challenging to get them to do what you ask. Why? Well, there are so many sights and smells that you've become old news. These are what we refer to as competing motivators. This is where saturation comes into play. The first step is letting your dog absorb all these new sights and smells without you asking for anything. If you're starting out on a walk, hang out in your yard for 5-10 minutes with your dog leashed up and ready to go without asking your dog to do anything. In the beginning, your dog will be very confused and anxious. Wander around with him and let him start sniffing. Plant your feet if he's trying to actually pull you in a direction. Don't ask for anything from your dog. This is very important. At the moment, your value has dropped since there are so many new sights and smells. You can raise your value by patiently waiting a few minutes and letting your dog saturate. If your dog does happen to look back at you, offer a treat for it. If he willingly takes it, great. If his interest in the treat drops when you go to offer it to him, remove it. The last thing you want to become is just another distraction in the environment waiving food in your dog's face.
Saturation takes place by getting to experience the thing often. If you do daily walks in the same area, your dog will saturate in the environment and it will be a heck of a lot easier to get his attention. As soon as saturation takes place, food will become a motivator again. This is an example I hear all the time. "When I take my dog for walks he isn't food motivated." It's not that he isn't motivated by food, he is just overwhelmed with motivators and doesn't know what to explore next. It's like a kid in a candy store.
So what is the takeaway here? If you're in a situation where your dog is "out of control" and you can't get his attention, you need to bring him to that environment more and let him explore it with his nose and eyes. By doing so, all those things will no longer motivate him leaving just one motivator left, you. It's also important to use the proper training equipment. So for your next walk, leash him up and hang out in front of your house for a bit. Let him explore and wait for some of the excitement to die down. When you're ready to start walking, try this.
I couldn't imagine living without a dog. Every morning when I wake up I am greeted by 3 smiling doggy faces. Okay, so the reason why they're smiling is because they know that seeing me equals breakfast, but at least they're happy to see me. And seriously, it feels great coming home from work and being greeted by their wiggly butts. If having a dog was as simple as feeding them and getting greeted by them then I think peoples' lives would be less stressful. Yes, owning a dog can ease your stress, but sometimes it can increase your stress.
Patience is incredibly important when dealing with another species of animal. Often times we wish our dogs would do what we ask the first time we ask. And for a lot of people, they wish that their dog would do it the first time, and do it solely because they asked their dog to do so. It's important to remember that dogs are animals and don't speak the native tongue of us humans. The majority of the time when we are asking our dogs to do something, all they hear is, "blah blah, blah blah blah." I know this to be true because sometimes I'll ask V to do something, like, "go lie down." He will look at me and not do it. I will then say, "V, blah blah blah" and he will go lie down. This is a perfect example of dogs having no idea what these words coming out of our mouths mean. For the record, we can introduce verbal cues to dogs and they can understand them. What I'm saying though, is that we as humans have a tendency to speak full sentences to our dogs and just expect them to understand what we are saying. Usually they don't respond the first time which then results in the phrase being repeated with a little more seriousness behind it. Humans typically get impatient in these circumstances. A couple takeaways here:
1. Dogs are just like any other animal. They don't do things unless their is motivation involved. We can motivate our dogs to do things by showing them what we'd like them to do, and providing great consequences. A dog will not comply with a human's requests just because it's coming from a human. That human needs to either provide good consequences, or bad consequences, both of which can create motivation.
2. Take the time to teach your dog cues, whether it's a verbal cue, or a hand signal and provide things your dog enjoys as payment. This will help your dog understand what you'd like him to do, and will keep your stress level down because you won't have to ask multiple times. With the "blah blah blah" example I gave above, I really should have just ask V to go to his "place." His place is his bed. This is a cue that we've practiced a ton and there's a very high probability that he will respond in the way that I'd like. But I'm human and I'm not perfect. Hence me saying, "V, go lie down." Honestly, it's an old habit of mine that I am trying to break. Don't they say the old habits die fast? Pshhh.
If you're sharing your home with a dog then you're sharing your home with an animal. Yes, that may be a blatantly obvious statement, but I feel that a lot of people forget that dogs are animals. Often times we anthropomorphize our dogs. We think of them as another human in the family. While V, Villere and Rosa are a part of our family, and we do refer to them as our kids, we remember that they're dogs. This helps us stay less stressed. Here are 5 things you can do with your dog to lower your stress level:
1. Meet your dog's physical and mental needs:
Just like you have needs, so does your dog. A lot of dogs will benefit from a daily walk, a fetch session, and a few training sessions throughout the day. Most dogs spend 23 + hours inside your house each day. That can be pretty boring considering that if they were wild, they'd be spending 20+ hours looking for food. While age and breed do play a factor in this, try to get your dog out on a daily walk and try to do at least one 10 minute training session per day. This will help meet your dog's needs.
2. Teach your dog appropriate behaviors:
Screaming "No!" when your dog is doing something you don't approve isn't the best option. We can teach out dogs behaviors that we'd like them to do. "Leave it" is a great option instead of shouting "no". Remember that these appropriate behaviors that we'd like them to do must have consequences that they like. If you'd like your dog to hold a down stay on his bed while you're eating dinner, make sure he gets little food rewards for staying in place.
3. Use appropriate equipment:
If you have a child, you probably aren't leaving home without bringing cheerios, or the iPad. Think in a similar way with your dog. Bring your treat pouch, small food rewards (multiple types just in case), a 4-6 foot leash, and a harness where the leash hooks in the front, or a head halter. All of these things will make life easier.
4. Let em' Saturate:
A lot of the times our patience is tested with our dogs is when we are trying to do something new. Saturation is important. In new situations there are a lot of things that are going to catch your dog's attention. We refer to these as competing motivators. It's important to let your dog check things out. The more often he can visit these places, the less exciting they are. It's the same concept as bringing your child to an amusement park and expecting them not to pay any attention to all the fun rides and games. When they first get there, it's tough, but after they get on a ride or two and win a prize, the excitement is less and it's easier to gain their focus. The more you can bring your dog around these things, the less novel they become and the easier it is to get your dog's attention and for him to do the things you're asking him to do.
5. Be patient:
Easier said than done, right? Seriously, remember that you're dealing with a living breathing animal that doesn't fully understand you. They're going to do things that animals do. Like lick themselves loudly, regardless of who's around. They're going to jump on counters and steal food if the opportunity presents itself. They're going to bark from time to time. These are normal dog behaviors. This is why it's a great idea to take a dog training class with your dog. Taking a class, or even doing private training will help you have a better understanding of why your dog is doing what it's doing. It will also give you the best ways to communicate with your dog. Just avoid any trainer that says you need to be a pack leader or your dog doesn't respect you etc. Also, avoid any trainer that is recommending the use of choke chains, prong collars, or shock collars. These devices can change your dog's behavior, but often times there are side effects that are much worse than the initial issue.