Teaching the dog to watch you or pay attention to you on your cue is pretty much a given if you are teaching competition students. Unlike in past years, today’s serious competitors know that having a dog that is “on” and gives his handler his full attention, when asked for, while working is one of the factors that separates them from the teams just seeking a qualifying score. But what of our beginner students or the students in our “pet classes?”
The vast majority of your students (unless your specialty is competition coaching) will never set foot in any performance arena. They are far more concerned with teaching their dog not to jump up on them or the children, and making sure they don’t bolt out the door and run up and down the neighborhood streets. Is teaching these dogs to give attention to their handlers something that is beneficial? If it is, how canwe, as instructors, convince pet owners that this exercise can be of value to them?
Getting their dog’s attention is something few new trainers give much thought to, but if a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, a simple demo can many times be very convincing. Ask for your dog’s attention, and let the students see that even around distractions, your dog will look at you when you need him to. Move around and add some distance as you command “watch me” and your new students will likely be quite impressed. Remember, many of these students are coming to class because they have dogs that “blow me off” or “don’t listen to me.” Of course what they are describing are dogs that have no reason to pay any attention to them unless it is something the dog wants to do!
Human comparisons are useful here, so remind your students how difficult it is for them to learn something new(or teach someone else) if they don’t have their attention on what is being taught. If we can’t or don’t choose to focus onthe new information we are trying to learn, most of it is out the window, so to speak. The same is true for our dogs. Anytime we can engage them and keep them interested in us and watching us we will progress much faster in their lessons.
Speed and efficiency in teaching our dogs what we want them to know, and then perform for us reliably, are not the only reasons to teach pet dogs to give us attention when we ask for it. That willingness to give the owner eye contact builds trust in the owner, and that in turn builds the kind of relationship that most dog owners want. We have all seen the handlers in our classes who come in with dogs that, if not for a leash, would have no connection at all to the handler. There is just no bond, no engagement of any kind between the two. It is a sad situation, and although these owners may teach their dogs the basic commands, there is always some-thing missing. These dogs should be taught that just “being there” is not enough. The owners should practice that “mental connection” as well.
Teaching pet dogs to give attention to their owners will improve their learning and performance of the basic commands, but perhaps most importantly it can build respect and proper relationship. As obedience instructors our bottom line goal should always be to find ways to keep dogs in their homes forever. Building that good relationship is a very important part of getting to that goal, and teaching the dog to pay attention to his handler is a great relationship builder.