Food treat/or other positive reinforcement is the way to go with developing a consistent focus. Be sure
that the reward is given instantly only when the dog is looking in your eyes (for whatever period of time
you demand), NOT when the dog is watching wherever the food/reward may be coming from.
This stops the problem of the dog looking at the location of the reward source. Be really consistent about this - then you
wouldn't have to spit, or do other fancy tricks getting the treat into the dog's mouth. Make:
look in my eyes X however long = instantaneous reward. Start with some word of command: look, watch,
whatever. Stand still, do not combine heeling with focus teaching in the very beginning - otherwise you
may get into coordination problems with the multitasking which result in the dog not looking consistently (looking away to see where it's going). Do not reward if the dog looks at your hand or
the place where reward is hidden. If your dog is focusing and then its eyes dart to your hand because
it is anticipating the reward, do not offer the reward then. Repeat the command, make it focus for a few more seconds first. In training I would make the pup look me in the eye while moving my
hands to and from my
pocket, treat bag, put my hands behind my back, etc. The dog learns quickly that the reward comes from looking in my eyes, not from my hand or my mouth (the spit trick) - and that looking away,
my hands, my pockets, the treat bag, etc. actually prolongs the giving of the reward. The
next step is to get the dog to re-focus after receiving its reward. This is why I don't like the spit
reward, if the dog misses the catch, it goes to the ground to look for it, and that's an unnecessary break
in focus. Ideally the dog should remain looking in your eyes while receiving the
reward, not watching the reward in order to catch it in the mouth - so this part of the exercise is
actually for focusing while receiving reward. In the beginning though, it is an exercise to learn re-focus after receiving reward. When you can get the dog to look at you for longer and longer periods
before you give it a
reward, then you can start combining the focus with the heeling. One step at a time. Literally. In the
beginning you may get into a lot of sits, because of anticipation that you are stopping fter
one step. Don't fret about it, that will go away. One step, two steps, three steps.
But every single step the dog must be focused. This is the stage you don't want to rush if you want to develop consistent focus in a dog who doesn't do it naturally (border collies and
shelties excel at this!). It
is not just demanding compliance, there is also an issue of coordination wherein the dog is required to multitask when it looks in your eye and tries to move all 4 legs at the same time in
some direction. Some
dogs multitask better than others, but it is a coordination which has to be learned correctly or you will get crabbing. You
will be amazed how much concentration it requires from YOU, not just the dog! Plus, your relationship with
your teammate is enhanced! Mimi Cary Drake ecollar since 1978
Permission to reprint article on this web site granted by author.
(c) copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Written authorization must be
obtained from author before copying and reproducing elsewhere.
Thanks. Mimi Cary Drake