Do you have a dog who is your best friend at home and constant shadow around the house? He follows you around, sleeps next to you, and is eager to play together.
But once you leave the house, he might not be as adoring.
As soon as you put on his leash and open the door, he acts as though he does not know you. He pulls on the leash and seems more interested in every other person or dog than you.
Want to start working on this and get a dog who will pay attention and focus during dog walks?
Here is a step-by-step plan:
Forget about commands
A big mistake we make is attempting to give commands when the dog isn’t focusing on us. He finds everything more exciting than you. You will not make yourself more desirable and vital by telling your dog what to do.
Your dog is more interested in other people and dogs because he enjoys new scents, new input, and new fun.
If all you can offer him is “work,” he will not be very keen on engaging with you.
Take your dog’s favorite toys and delicious treats on the walk. Ideally, these treats should be something he never gets for any other occasion. You can use hotdogs, cooked chicken, roast beef, cheese, ham, etc. Make the pieces small and take plenty!
Now you give the treats periodically while you are out and about. Remember that you do not want to expect too much for now. Don’t give your dog commands. No sit, wait, stay, or leave it. You need to be pure fun!
So feed him treats generously and play with his toys.
Pick easy destinations
Don’t overwhelm your dog and put him into a situation in which he is too distracted even to eat your treats.
Start with places where you can capture your dog’s attention, such as a park that is not busy or an empty parking lot.
If you can’t get your dog to focus on you in front of your house, don’t expect him to pay attention while you are at the dog park.
Again, just give him treats and play with him.
Make it a little harder
If your dog can eat treats and play with toys in less crowded places, you can take it up a notch.
Pick areas that are a bit busier and practice getting him to pay attention to you there.
Don’t let your dog enjoy bad choices
If your dog happens to stop playing with you and strains towards another dog or human, do not let him go over and say hello. Otherwise, he will learn: If I refuse to pay attention, I get to decide who I want to greet.
That is exactly what you don’t want your dog to learn. You want your dog to understand he always needs to focus during dog walks.
If your dog gets distracted, move away from the distraction. See if distance will make it easier to focus on you.
It is essential that you are fun and upbeat.
If you tell your dog “No/Watch Me/Stop That/Uh-Uh” regularly, he will not enjoy your company.
Do not scold your dog for being distracted. Instead, make the training easy enough so that your dog will focus on you.
Mix it up
Dogs are not the best at understanding that the same behavior can be performed in many different places.
If you only practice in one location, your dog will get really good at paying attention in that place.
The first time you take him elsewhere, he will fail to show you the same amount of focus.
So make sure to vary where you have him eat his treats and play with his toys.
After your dog can eat special treats and play in a variety of locations, it’s time to introduce some simple obedience commands.
Keep the obedience drills quick and fun. For example, don’t make him hold a sit-stay for 5 minutes.
Instead, ask your dog to sit and reward him with delicious treats. Give the dog a few commands. Don’t overdo it.
You want your dog to enjoy training sessions.
Take the show on the road
Now that your dog can pay attention and follow a few commands in more relaxed places, it’s time to gradually increase the difficulty of the training environment.
Do not go straight from a remote parking lot to a dog park. To help your dog adjust successfully, raise the challenge incrementally.
If your dog has spent his whole life ignoring you outside, do not expect him to make a complete change within a week.
The longer your dog’s history of ignoring you, the longer it will take to counter it with training. Expect to train several times a week for one or two months before your dog masters the new habit and focuses during dog walks.
Steffi Trott is a professional dog trainer from Albuquerque, NM. She specializes in a play-based approach to training that lets dogs and owners have fun and work together as a team. She offers online classes at spiritdogtraining.com.