Quick guide: Focus


The ‘focus’ command can be so useful and it’s so easy to teach. Focus is one of the foundation commands. Once a dog has learnt focus they understand how training works, this helps them respond better to future training. I find this command comes in very handy to help stop dogs who are constantly distracted on walks and it can even be used to keep your dog out of trouble. It also makes taking photos of them so much easier! 

Things to remember:

  •  Pick a cue word and always use the same one
  •  Keep rewards interesting; try toys and cuddles don’t just use food treats
  •  Start in a low distraction environment and once your dog masters the command there you can start to add distractions to the area or move to a higher distraction area to practice. 
  •  Never pull your dog’s head around to face you, the dog must learn to do this on its own or it won’t learn at all.

Step one:  get on the same level as your dog, for small dogs this could be sitting on the ground for some dogs this could be almost standing. Tell them to sit then reward them for doing so. 

Step two: show the dog the treat then bring it towards your face and hold it between your eyes, say your cue word ‘either focus or look at me’ when the dog makes eye contact with you reward quickly. If you are using a clicker, click as soon as they have made eye contact and reward swiftly after.

Step three: Continue doing these steps but slowly lengthen the amount of time the dog has to maintain eye contact for before giving the treat. This will teach the dog to give you attention for a longer period of time. 

Step four: Once they are maintaining eye contact reliably on the cue word begin moving further away from them. Making the distance between your eyes and theirs larger while holding their focus will help prepare them for use of this command in the real world eg on walks, or at a park. When doing this step start by only moving a short distance from the dog and gradually increase it each time until you can pull your dogs focus from across the room or yard.  

Trouble shooting:

  •  If the dog isn’t interested in looking at you try a higher value treat, e.g. something that tastes better or a fun toy. If this doesn’t work move to a lower distraction environment.  
  •  If they get distracted too quickly and won’t look at you for very long make sure they are worn out before you start training, try going for a run or walk.
  •  If they are still being distracted, take a step back, you may have moved to quickly and the dog doesn’t understand what you want them to do. Spend lots of time on the basics before moving on to the last steps.
  •  Make sure your environment is as distraction free as possible to begin with. 
  •  Never train while frustrated, have a break and try again later.
  •  Try short training sessions throughout the day. A dog will respond better when training is spread out over the day rather than in large sessions. 

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