Attention is important to keep your dog focused and thinking.
When your dog is experiencing fear and/or reacting, they are in a high state of arousal. They are in flight or fight mode and their body is full of adrenaline. During this time, it is impossible for learning to happen and their focus will be directed towards whatever is causing this stress. This is not the time to work the dog as they are in an emotional state. We must first get them thinking and then work from there. To do this, we begin with the auto watch. When we get our dogs focused on us, we trigger the cognitive part of their brain and learning can begin to happen. It slows the dog down and enables us to have much more success in training!
Teaching the Auto Watch
1. Your dog should understand ‘yes’ and offered attention.
2. Have a handful of small treats and step down on your dog’s leash.
3. When they look away (ex: at another dog), say ‘yes’. Your dog should hear the yes and look back to you in anticipation for their reward. When they do, offer them a treat. If they do not, you are too close or may need to just wait them out.
4. Repeat this 5-10 times until your dog is quickly looking back to you when they hear ‘yes’.
5. Now wait for your dog to look back to you before saying the ‘yes’. Once they do, say ‘yes’ and reward. This is the auto watch; look to the distraction, but look back to me.
Be aware of your dog’s focus and excitement levels. If they are moving around, use your food to lure them back to place or just ask them to sit. You must stay still and not react to their excitement levels. Do not just practice this with other dogs, but with anything that gets your dog’s attention away from you.
Your dog’s focus may be on the food and they may go into food brain. If this happens, keep the food out of sight. Do the universal ‘nothing in my hands’ gesture to your dog. Look down at the item and watch in your peripheral for your dog to look away.
You want your dog really thinking about what they are looking at. As the dog begins to understand the auto watch, ensure they really observe the other dog. Be aware of the dog doing this in fast repetition as it may cause their arousal levels to increase. Keep them calm and do this by ensuring you are also maintaining slow movements. Keep praise calm and deliver treats slowly.