How to train my dog to listen to me? How do I get him out of his “thoughts” and focus on me?

This is something often asked during training. What is the best way to get my dog’s attention and how can I train my dog to listen? Often the steps we take for this are all out of order!  What is the first thing you instinctively do to get your dogs attention? You call your dog by his name and most likely it’s more than just once. Why not, that’s the purpose of a name isn’t it?

In today’s article I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t address your dog by name when he’s already paying attention and how something like that can even damage the trust he has in you.

We say the name of our dog more than 100 times a day – extreme, isn’t it? Think about this, during the times you call your dog, I bet he is present (or at least in the vicinity) half the time you called his name.

Every pet parent should understand that the structure of a command should be consistent and with great care. The words you speak to your dog are much more important than you may realize. When you want to train your dog to listen, it’s really important understand this.

My words mean safety and they are clear, they should stay that way.

The more we say, the worse for the dog so essentially “less is more” would apply to this “look” command. When we use our dogs name properly, the goal is get them to look but because often we have abused the use of their name, we need a new signal here, a new command word. This is where the “look” command comes in. Maybe a command you haven’t thought of using for attention because well, you call their name. It’s just overused so its not dependable to use this as a command.

We want their attention, to either give another command such as heel, sit, stay, come and so forth. The look command is used to get them to focus and well, LOOK AT ME!! Training your dog to listen isn’t just about being obedient, it’s about safety too. Stopping them from doing something that could be harmful, if they don’t listen to you, this could be dangerous.

It’s really important with any command you’re working on, not to repeat your signal a hundred times.  I’m sure when I have done this to my dogs, I simply make myself look ridiculous and untrustworthy in front of my dog.

The same principle applies with their name.  How is your dog supposed to know out of the hundred times you’ve called his name that day, which ones were you really serious and which ones were just said casually with no purpose? This can condition your dog to see your words as insignificant. You can’t blame your dog for not looking when you call his name if you don’t always follow through with a look command. Does that makes sense?

In addition, the dog can also become really frustrated if he looks at you after you call his name and it wasn’t really purposeful. Have you gotten the side head look from your dog after you say their name, only to say hello to them? They sit there patiently looking at you with their head cocked to one side, the look says something like “Yes? Go on? Whats up? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”  Okay maybe not exactly like that but you get the point right?  Eventually your dog learns the name isn’t so important, and perhaps won’t be so attentive the next time. You become boring and less interesting. Sad but true!

Alright, well now that I have explained the importance of not over using their name and why we need a look command, training would be the next step!

Training should always start positive and end positive. You have to understand that training is fun, but it’s also work for your dog. It can be really exhausting and even stressful, no matter the age of the dogs. I like to say “shake it off” before starting training and I do this as soon as I’m done too. Of course I’m not a professional trainer, but I have watched a few pro’s do this. They explained it helps to get out some energy so they can focus to start training and at the end of the session it helps to ensure training ends on a positive note.

Always begin with the classic sentence: Please “Look” command and then the  “Sit” command

Important “look”  is not a trick! You mean business and they will learn this.

It’s for pure attention, so I see it more as half a command, as preparation for training or the next command.  “Look” is a very good support for introducing new commands. It is also very suitable for nervous dogs, because depending on the dog’s character you can gently distract the dog or let the stress level of the dog drop through his own balanced body language. If a dog is distracted by a stimulus, using the “look” command can be more than helpful than simply calling their name.  Be prepared to offer guidance to them after you have their full attention, they will want to know what’s next.

How do I set up “Look” with my dog?

It’s as simple as it is ingenious, here’s a quick guide on how I did it. Im pretty detailed but the thing is, dogs should naturally want to look at you, your mouth and your face when you 1. have treats in your hand and 2. when you have their attention.

The first thing I did was get a rewards ready. I have some great training treats I use that are small but mighty in flavor and my dogs love them! Its also a good idea to use a training treat pouch or bag. The one I have attaches around my waist or I can wear over my shoulder. It’s fantastic for walks or even just at home.

The reward can be a treat or a verbal reward, depending on the character of the dog. When rebuilding signals I always used treats for my dog Aspen as she responds really well with treat rewards.  If we are out and about or she does something great and a treat isn’t available, she is rewarded with body language and lots of praise.

Next, I put Aspen before me in a straight position for the beginning. So the object of desire is a treat this time. Now I hold the treat in front of my forehead.

Automatically Aspen looks at the treat, and also inevitably into my eyes. If this moment is there, I say “look” now the signal is connected with an activity and built up.

As with any signal, timing is everything, reward your dog only if he really looks up at you and is not distracted. Then I quickly give her a treat. I also use a clicker for my training on commands and signals. Once she obeys then I click and hand a treat. This further strengthens the command.

This will now be repeated to strengthen the link permanently. With Aspen I practice such things max. with 4 to 5 repetitions. Here it depends also on her state of mind. If the dog has a hard time with it, I do just few times.

In the second step to the look command training, hold the treat about 5 inches next to the head, the eyes – treat distance is now bigger and Aspen must be aware of the signal now, what she should do then – look to me!  Make eye contact on my command “look”.

Tip: If your dog is staring curiously at the object of desire, don’t use the name, but a little noise like clicks or kiss mouth noise. This usually does the trick!

Look at your Dog, say “look” and reward him. However, if this happens several times, the go back another step. It is not only important to create and create the link, but also the be-all and end-all. This is the only way to continue to monitor a smooth signal build-up.

Now I keep the treat further and further away, say “look” and Aspen looks at me, then she is rewarded.

In the beginning you can train this at eye level to make it easier for your dog. Then you can get up to be able to use it realistically. A change of positions during practice is also important.

If the signal fits well, the treat is removed and disappears into the bag again, as does the hand. In the last step you just say “look” without holding up a treat.

In another step Aspen learned the real conditions, because outside she never sits in front of me, but next to me. So this is when you can really see if the connection is set deeply for this command.

In Summary

  • Don’t abuse your dog’s name. Say their name when you can follow through with a command, a praise or a certain behavior to fully acknowledge them. This way they know their name is important
  • “Look” command is one of the best training signals you can teach your dog. This will be used as a partial command, followed by a command.
  • Start off with the treat on your forehead, give the “look” command, when she makes eye contact with you, reward! Repeat several times.
  • Increase distance of treat from your eyes, repeat several times with each distance.
  • “Look” command is successful when the treats remains in the training bag (out of sight) and she still looks at you when you say “look”
  • Use a clicker or a hand signal to reinforce the command connection. This should done in this order:
    •  command
    • obeys
    • click (or hand gesture/signal)
    • treat

Once your dog responds to the look command, imagine the amazing photos you’ll be able to get! Just say “LOOK” and your sweet little pouch will be all bright eyed looking right at the camera!

Good Luck and happy training!

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