Dogs love going out for a walk, not just for the physical exercise but also for the mental stimulation. It is their opportunity to explore and get the daily news of what has been happening in the area. Through their superior abilities to discern different scents they know who has been walking in that area, how long ago and how often. All the amazing scents, accompanied with seeing other dogs, cats, birds, people, to name a few possible distractions, it is not very surprising that even the most well-mannered dog can easily become distracted and not always wish to focus on you and listen when you need them to.
Getting focus from your dog is more important than any of the other basic training exercises. Focus is an exercise that needs to be taught and always needs to be taught first. In the basic obedience classes I teach, everyone has the exact same problem to begin with. They learn how to work with their dog on exercises such as Heel (walking politely on a loose leash), Watch Me etc., and initially the dog learns to listen perfectly at home where there is no distractions, however as soon as they go out for a walk, or even in class their dog is easily distracted again. This can be frustrating when you are starting out training with your dog, however it can only be resolved through practice and more practice and slowly desensitizing your dog to various distractions.
Desensitization is key – Teaching your dog to focus on you using the “Watch Me” command, first at home (with no distraction, until they understand the command perfectly), then in the garden, then on the street and slowly build up to all different distractions. You need to build your dog up slowly and set him up for success. If your dog starts becoming too distracted at any time it means you are moving too fast, go back a step and start again.
A few helpful tips to gain focus:
Find out what your dog loves the most, i.e. Food, toys, ball….use this as his/her reward. For example a favorite toy should only be used while in training to keep them keen on it. Once finished training put it away until the next training session.
Nothing in Life is for Free – For affection and for treats or food. Use your attention and praise as a reward. Make your dog earn everything by asking for a simple command before giving affection or food such as Watch me or sit.
Train as often as possible. Don’t feel you have to set out lengthy training sessions, 5 minutes a couple times a day will improve your dog’s obedience. The more you train, the more focused your dog will become.
Have fun – projecting a positive energy and enjoying the process will energize your dog to want to train with you.
Plan ahead. By planning out different scenarios and distractions your dog will become less reactive to outside influences. Set up scenarios to practice with your dog to desensitize.