Does your dog follow you around, lay at your feet and snap their head to look at your when you call their name? If he/she does you have focus. Focus means pay attention. Go on youtube and watch schutzhund obedience and you will see the ultimate in focus; dogs looking up at their hander as the so gracefully heel. If your dog stares at you, you have focus. It’s almost as if they are asking, “Okay what comes next?” There are different ways to teach focus and it really depends on your dog’s interest.
When I teach young dogs to heel I use hotdogs, a whole uncut hotdog. Have your dog on a leash and walk holding the hotdog at your hip. Palm the hotdog so just a small portion is sticking out and let the dog nibble as you walk. As the dog learns raise the hot dog and intermittently reward with a little nibble. This technique teaches a good position and teaches the dog to look up.
Another method I use to teach the dog to look at me is to spit food at him/her. Eye contact gets rewarded. They learn very quickly if they stare yummy morsels fly out of your mouth directly to their mouth. If your dog has lousy eye to mouth coordination this may be more difficult because the dog is constantly sniffing around for the treat that bounced off of his/her head and onto the floor. It definitely helps if your dog can catch.
Toys are another method to build focus. My dogs love the ball and tug so these are my focus tools. Hold the toy high under your chin or in your left had work on coming and heeling. Hold the toy by your left armpit for heeling because this teaches the dog to stay in position and to look up as they heel. Reward as you walk so the dog never knows when the reward is coming and intermittent rewards also builds anticipation. If your dog is into a squeaky toy use that or anything else that your dog gets excited about.
Your toy for focus should be a special toy only used when training, not left in the home for the dog to play with throughout the day. We have a dog that comes to day care that loves the disc. The owner has trained the dog to snap to the heel position to get him to throw the disc. Pretty cool stuff.
You want to trick your dog so they never know when the reward is coming. In the home call your dog, “Sammy Come”, when Sammy arrived sliding in the sit position spit your treat or reward with his favorite toy with a good game of fetch or tug. Dogs are addicted gamblers, if you pay a lot to teach the behavior and change the payment to intervals you will have a very obedient focused dog. Maybe this time he’s going to pay me.
I see dogs many times that act like they don’t even know their name. The owner is calling their name and the dog is sniffing around doing whatever as if they were deaf. A dog that ignores you does not respect you. You didn’t do the work when they were young to teach focus. If you want a dog that is focused, you must not spoil them. If they get everything for free and there is always toys and food available they in turn don’t need to depend on you for anything, they just exist.
Have fun with your dog and teach them to pay attention to you at an early age because good things will happen. Good things happen when you look at your owner. Look at owner-treat, look at owner play, come when called equals reward. Building focus is fun for you and your dog. Building focus is one of many steps in training a well behaved happy dog.