Attention is such a terrifically hard thing for a terrier. I’m stone cold boring compared to leaves, squirrels, grass, cats, dogs, people, birds, drifting fur balls… Face it: everything is cooler than me. But what if Wally gets a tasty nom every time he looks at me? All of a sudden I’m a lot more interesting! Initially nothing is better than other dogs, but with enough (thousands of) reps even another dog is boring when mom is around. Mom is the keeper of noms and toys and awesomeness!
Since attention is a vital part of many basic behaviors (loose leash walking, sit, down, come, etc) I work on it frequently during training sessions. After just one training session (which included about 60 total reps of eye contact) Wally was shadowing me all over the house, even the next day! Some dogs, such as herding breeds or retrievers, are naturally inclined to pay attention to you. They may think you’re important simply because you exist. Not so with terriers (or hounds or some working breeds). These guys need a reason to pay attention to you! How do you give them a reason? Duh, reinforce them for paying attention to you!
First teach eye contact…
1. Kneeling down with a treat in your fist, let him know you have a treat, but don’t let him eat it. The instant he pauses C/T (click/treat). Do 5-10 reps.
2. Repeat, but now wait 1sec before C/T. Do 5-10 reps
3. Hold the treat in a fist away from your body and C/T the second he glances at your face. Do 5-10 reps.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 in a different room. Work up to several seconds of eye contact in various rooms, in the yard, and with plenty of distractions. Remember to relax your requirements any time you change something (new location, new distraction, etc).
Then go out and about…
1. Go somewhere with few distractions, like a parking lot. Get out of the car and give your dog 1-2ft of leash.
2. Wait. Don’t do or say anything, just stand there. When he glances at you C/T.
3. Wait some more and keep reinforcing glances. After 5-10 reps end the session. Give your dog a break by playing with him, letting him explore, or going into the store.
4. Do this several times a week, gradually moving to more distracting locations.
5. If your dog refuses food he’s too stressed and should be removed from that location. Set him up for success by going somewhere he can handle.
Can I get his attention, always? If not I have to work on it until I can, then keep brushing up. It’s a long road, but when we’re done Wally will be in the habit of looking at me when anything distracting shows up. I like that prospect!
Singing accolades for the Gentle Leader