Teaching a Dog to Focus to Help Her Listen Better

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 7, 2021

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with Athena, a three year old Border Collie Whippet mix who sometimes barks and fixates on things she doesn’t understand or like.

Athena’s guardian was most concerned about her “aggressive dog behavior.” I put that in quotes as I didn’t observe anything concerning or aggressive about her behavior. I did see a lot of demanding behavior that manifested with barks, grunts and some pawing. That’s not to say Athena can’t be or act aggressive, but based on the guardian’s questions about the behavior she was seeing with me (demand barking) and if I was concerned (I was not), I think this is more of a case of miscommunication (misidentifying demand barking for aggression) and a dog who is used to getting what she wants, when she wants. As a dog behaviorist, most of the time I have experienced guardians consistnetly providing attention on demand, this behavior is not unusual.

I spent most of the session going over ways the guardian can help Athena learn some more appropriate manners such as asking Athena to sit or lay down when she demands attention. This may seem like a small thing, but teaching a dog to ask for attention by offering a desired behavior can help form or reinforce a healthy leader folllower dynamic. This can also reduce her demanding behavior with guests.

At DGP, we like to think of this as giving the dog a do-over the same way a parent does when a child makes a inpolite demand. “Mom get me a snack,” the child says. Mom replies with a “want to try that again?” If the child asks politely on the do-over, the parent usually grants the request as evidence that politeness gets them what they want. Positive reinforcement for kids. Same thing works for dogs. This lesson will need to be repeated over and over until Athena starts to sit to ask for attention instead of jumping up, pawing at or barking for it.

When Athena’s guardian mentioned she had difficulty getting the dog to listen at times, I decided to show them a focus exercise. This is an easy way to train a dog to listen to you, but it needs to be done progressively; practicing at one level over and over until its second nature before adding in more time or a more distracting environment. If you have a dog who doesnt listen to you, you should check out the free positive dog training video below.

Teaching a dog to listen to you on cue is a very wise thing to do. The world is a very distracting environment and being able to have your dog look at your face when you need can help you distract your dog away from things it may react t. But as I mentioned in the video, this exercise has countless other useful applications.

After we shot the above video, I coached the guardians through this focus exercise until they got the same resutls that I did. It will be important for them to practice this a few times a day every day until fully learned. Its not hard to do, you dont have to be a professional rescue dog trainer to do it. You just need time, patience, sharp observation skills and some tasty treats.

Once Athena has the focus exercise down pat, the guardian can use the cue to stop her dog from acting aggressive by practicing at a distance as referenced in the above video. This is an easy way to get a dog’s attention if you pratice often for a week or so.

We covered a number of other dog beavior tips in this in home Omaha dog training session. We filmed a summary Roadmap to Success video to make it easy for the guardians to remember all the details. You can check it out yourself.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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