Attention is an easy cue to learn and a foundation behavior that’s necessary for absolutely every single command that you ever give your dog in the future. If you’re teaching your dog SIT, DOWN or COME, you can’t expect that he’ll actually do any of those things for you if you don’t have his attention.

When we first teach attention, we’re teaching our dogs that their name always, always, ALWAYS means something good. The more fantastic the something, the more likely they are to drop what they’re doing and race to you every time they hear their name.

Try not to use your dog’s name when you’re angry with him. That doesn’t mean you can’t get angry with him, but choose some other word if you need to yell – give your dog an entirely new name for those times.

To begin to teach Attention, start with your dog’s name. Later, you can teach him Attention with a word like “Look”, “Watch” or “Ready. Every time he hears his name he should turn and look at your face. When beginning, you can use a treat or a toy to lure his eyes up to your eyes every time you say his name.

Begin in a quiet area with your dog on lead and a supply of really tasty treats or a super fun toy.

  1. Say your dog’s name. If he doesn’t look at you within 3 seconds, hold the treat enclosed in your hand as a lure, and place your hand in front of your dog’s nose. Move your hand from his nose up to your eyes. He doesn’t need to hold your gaze for more than a fraction of a second at first: even a glance or an ear twitch in your direction is good enough – we’re just looking for some sign that he’s listening. Timing is key: you want to try and give him praise the instant he glances at you, not afterwards. Once you catch his eye, or in the middle of his glance, praise and reward. Praising and rewarding too late may mean that you’re praising and treating for him looking at a squirrel instead of at you.

  2. When your dog is consistently looking at your face 90% of the time, move on to making the treat itself a distraction. Hold your arm straight out to the side with the treat in plain view. Say your dog’s name and wait until he looks at your face. Do not repeat his name, just wait. When your dog does look at your face, praise and reward.

  3. Once your dog is reliably looking at your face regardless of where the treat is with 90% consistency, you can throw in even more distractions. Try tossing treats on the ground or practicing outside in the yard or at the park.

  4. As you’re practicing, begin to wean him off of treats by only treating the very fastest Attentions. Be sure to still praise for attention every time.

  5. And, of course, practice EVERYWHERE! The more solid you have this behavior in every possible situation and location; the better your dog will be at listening to your other cues in the same types of difficult situations.