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Tuesday Training Byte: Focus is the foundation

During a recent trip I couldn't help but notice an owner being pulled around by his pittie mix all while giving out a slew of different commands. Guess what happened? The dog just kept on doing what he was doing: ignoring his owner and pulling like crazy. Does this sound familiar? When we get ready to start training, we need to establish simple and distinct words for the behaviors we want our dogs to learn, then be consistent. However, BEFORE giving a command, make sure to get your dog's attention. I often will make a little sound like psst psst, and as soon as the dog looks my direction, I say yes! and immediately reinforce that behavior with a treat. I may pat the dog and tell her what a good girl she is. If she is still paying attention to me, then I say her name and give the command. If she obeys, then again I mark the behavior with "yes!" followed by a treat. If my dog looks away and starts pulling, I repeat the process. I may even have to turn around and go the opposite direction until my dog is focusing on me. I do not give a command until I know that I have my dog's attention. Most dogs thrive on attention. A few sessions of playing the focus on me game, your dog will catch on. Don't even try to walk forward with your dog pulling, as this just rewards the bad behavior. If my dog is looking at another person or dog, I give the sound psst and if need be, I touch a finger to her rump until she turns to me. Do not keep calling her name or giving a slew of commands that your dog continues to ignore. Ignoring distractions and focusing on the owner is the foundation of training. Be sure to make it fun.

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