How to Train a Dog to Pay Attention on Walks

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 20, 2023

Apollo3 - How to Train a Dog to Pay Attention on Walks

For this Santa Monica dog training session we worked with Apollo; sharing tips to train a dog to pay attention on walks or outside the home.

Because Apollo is sometimes leery of new people visiting his home, I used a Dog Behaviorist trick to meet him outside successfully. After it was clear that he was pretty happy to meet me, we headed inside to do some Santa Monica dog behavior modificaiton.

I could tell that Apollo had some mild anxiety by how he moved and his body language. He gave a couple of indicators that he had cortisol, the stress hormone, and his blood; jittery / overly sensitive to sounds and movement.

I adjusted how I interacted with him to help him feel more comfortable and I went through a number of fundamentals with his guardians. Many people focus on a dog’s behavior problems instead of evaluating the dog’s day-to-day environment first. Sometimes there are things that we do unintentionally that can contribute to a dog’s anxiety or insecurity.

Fortunately, Apollo’s guardians had done some research and were a little bit further ahead than most of my dog behavior clients. This allowed me to skip come exercises like marker loading and use.

Instead I showed them a hand targeting exercise first. I like teaching this exercise as it can serve as a consent check, but also gives you the ability to reposition your dog without physically pushing or pulling them which can activate their opposition response. It’s also a nice alternative recall cue.

Next we went over the importance of celebrating desired behaviors when the dog offers them voluntarily. This is super easy and profoundly impctful – IF you celebrate consistently. We also went over how to teach dog manners when they paw, nudge or bark for attention, some creative exercise tips and how they can use mental stimulation exercises like cookie in the corner to drain Apollo’s excess energy and keep him occupied.

Apollo likes to chase the cat, so I knew that coming up with a few mental stimulation exercises will come in handy. I advised his guardians that they should interpret him trying to play with a cat or playing with them roughly as his way of saying he is bored or he needs some exercise. Playing tug of war, fetch, going for a sniff walk, doing some training (in 1-3 minute practice sessions) or finding some DIY enrichment activities (Search google or Facebook) are all great things to do when Apollo’s cat chasing behaviors start.

I also went over dog cut off signals and consent. Many people fail to recognize when a dog communicates that it is uncomfortable or disagrees with something.  This can happen when we are on walks or in the home. Basically anytime anyone (fro his guardians to strangers) interacts with him. Often we thnk petting a dog is positive so we can do it any time we want or that we can grab the dog and pull it over so we can pet it. While many dogs will allow this, if you are pulling them over, even to pet, you are forcing them and taking away their will. I have had cleints where the guardians do this often, and it results in the dog being less engaging with friends and strangers.

Over time, this can cause an erosion of trust and feelings of anxiety and frustration in the dog. Stopping when a dog indicates it is uncomfortable with ANYONE is a very important and underutilized dog human interaction. But just like us, we feel a lot more secure and comfortable with people who listen to us and stop when we ask them to or show we dont like what is going on. Even if the other person means the best.

I also went over basic dog body language as Apollo is sometimes uncomfortable around strangers. Recognizing the first indication that he is uncomfortable and increasing distance will help him feel more secure and confident. This is the best thing to do for a dog who is growling, barking, snapping, etc. One of the worst things to do is to correct or punish a dog for growling. This can be successful and cause the dg not to growl but to lunge and bite without warning. Always respect the warning and increase distance.

How to Train a Dog to Pay Attention on Walks

One of the primary dog behavior problems I was hired to fix was Apollo’s failure to listen to his guardian when he is outside. Often we think of this behavior as intentional, but its not. It’s not unusual for a puppy to have difficulty listening when in an environment that is stimulating or new. Some adult dogs dont listen outside too.

Fortunately I experienced this problem with my own dog Quest when he was a puppy, so I knew what to do and what not to do. Many people take a dog being so overwhelmed or distracted as being disobedient. But in reality, they are just on information overload.

I pulled out my camera and we put Apollo on the leash so that I could go over an easy way to teach a dog to pay attention outside or on walks. If your dog doesn’t listen to you on leash, you should check out the free positive dog training video below.

Although we did not even leave the home, that exercise took about 10 minutes. But Id like to see the guardians take things one step futher. A big part of the reason that Apollo is unable to listen to his humans on walks is that he gets so excited before they actually start. I recommended the guardians practice the same technique with leashing him up and putting on his harness.

Spending a minute here and another minute there leashing Apollo up throughout the dog, or stopping the process when he shows excitement, is an easy desensitization exercise. We want Apollo to learn that just because the leash or harness comes out doesnt mean he will be going for a walk. Taking the time to go over this at times they dont plan on going for a walk will really help the dog stop getting so excited it can’t listen.

I would like to see the guardians practice these exercises (putting on the harness, attaching the leash or the door exercise featured in the free dog trainng video above once or twice a day in between regular walks.

Training a dog to listen to you is a two-part process. First you need to make sure that they are not over excited before the walk (desensitized by the practice I desceibed earlier) and secondly, you need to do something that they find very appealing (sitting for treats) and repeat it as often and frequently as necessary to hold or recapture their attention. At first its as fast as you can get to the next sit, but after while, Apollo’s focus will be on his handler anticipating s/he will be asking for a sit and giving a treat if he does.

After we finished up the video, we did a little work on muzzle training and a counter conditioning exercise to help him feel better about having his ears cleaned or eardrops added.

Towards the end of the session, we went over the leave it command. It took Apollo a little practice to figure out leave it but I think this exercise will be profound for his guardians since he is a young puppy who still sometimes gets into mischief. Once established, the can even use the leave it cue to stop him before he starts to chase the cat.

I strongly recommended his guardian to sign up for some of the Saturday classes held at I Said Sit Dog Training. This will give Apollo the opportunity to socialize with other puppies as well as help him with some of his anxiety and fear of going to the vet.

This session went a couple of hours longer than anticipated and we covered a lot. To make sure that the guardians could remember everything we discussed in today’s Santa Monica in-home dog training session, I recorded a roadmap to success summary video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr