If you have ever taken more than one class with us here at AnimalSense, you have likely noticed that the first week of class is pretty similar, no matter if you’re taking Puppy Pre-School or Recall and Leash Manners. We almost always teach or review what we call “attention exercises”. Attention exercises consist of “The Name Game”, “Watch Me”, and “Touch”.
We promise it’s not because we’re lazy or don’t have enough to teach you in class – it’s because we feel these skills are essential for your dog to know and practice throughout their lives. They’re also really easy for most dogs, including puppies, to learn right off the bat, can be used to teach them more advanced skills, and some great tricks!
Here’s a breakdown of the basic of each exercise, and some fun applications that you may not have thought of.
The Name Game is just that – a simple game you play with your dog to teach them their name, and to teach them that their name means that good things are coming their way! This is a great “first exercise” for new puppies, newly rescued or newly rehomed dogs. Some of our trainers like to call this “Bowser Brainwashing”, which is both accurate and hilarious. It’s easy:
That’s right! Your dog doesn’t have to do ANYTHING to be rewarded during The Name Game – no wonder they love it so much! We are simply teaching them that hearing their name means to look to you for something good. You can easily implement The Name Game at mealtime with their kibble, or throughout your weekly routine – it’s quick and easy. An important thing to try and remember is not to use your dog’s name when you’re upset with them, or when something is going to happen to them that they may not like, such as a nail trim or trip to the vet – we want them to LOVE hearing their name, and ideally come running when they hear it – not be afraid that they’re going to get scolded or have something scary happen to them.
Watch Me teaches your dog to…well, watch you! It sounds simple enough, but this simple exercise can make a huge impact on your relationship with your dog. Dogs who can focus on their owners are less likely to perform behaviors that we may not like, such as barking at the dog across the street, pulling on their leash, or picking up that discarded doughnut on the street.
Watch Me strengthens your dog’s belief that you are the best thing in the whole world! Here’s how to introduce it:
When your dog is reliably giving you eye contact, even for a split second, you can start naming it, by asking “Watch Me!” as you bring the treat to your nose. When they have THAT down pat, you can move the treat away from your forehead, and out to the side to make it more difficult on your pet. Remember, at first, you’re not asking for a prolonged period of eye contact – just a split second means that Fido is “getting it”. As he or she gets better at the skill, you can increase the length of time you’d like your dog to keep eye contact before you reward them for the good behavior. As with all new behaviors, take the learning process slow and in small steps, and your dog will have it down in no time!
Watch Me has tons of practical applications, but one of my favorite times to use it is when we’re out on walks. If there are other dogs approaching or on the other side of the street, I will pull my dog off to the side and ask for a “Watch Me”, and work with them to maintain eye contact with me while the other dogs pass. Instead of getting distracted or getting silly with the other dogs, my dog is playing a game with me, and performing good behavior at the same time! You can also use Watch Me as a method for your dog to say “please” for something they’d like – whether it be their food, for you to throw a ball, or to go outside. Wait for them to give you eye contact before they’re rewarded with whatever it is they want.
Finally, my favorite attention exercise – Touch! Touch asks your dog to touch their nose to your hand – that’s it! I love Touch because it’s interactive and gets your dog moving in a positive way. It can also be used to teach some pretty amazing tricks and behaviors!
Here’s how to get started:
Sounds simple enough, right? It really is, and most dogs catch onto it really quickly. If your dog is shy or not quite used to hands yet, you’ll want to take it very slowly to make sure they’re not nervous or afraid. Again, this is all about good experiences for you and your dog!
Touch is a form of targeting, and targeting is used to teach dogs neat tricks such as opening doors, turning off light switches, and pressing buttons on an elevator. It’s a favorite tool for service dog trainers and owners.
Just like with Watch Me, Touch is a great tool to have while you’re out on a walk. If Fifi tends to wander, play “Touch” with her to keep her close to you while on leash, and reward with treats randomly to keep her guessing and interested. Lots of trainers also use Touch as a way to teach your dog to come to you. If they like to play Touch, work on increasing the distance between the two of you before asking for a Touch. If you can get your dog to perform Touch from across the yard, or when you’re in the next room, well then, that’s a pretty good recall, isn’t it?
With these three simple, basic exercises in your pocket, you’ll have your dog focused on you and ready for their next task, all while thinking they’re playing fun games and getting rewarded for their good behavior. As with any training, if you’re not sure about how to go about it, or have any questions about the process, give us a call in the office and we’ll be happy to give you some more tips. Or, of course, sign up for one of our classes – you’ll definitely get to learn all you could ever want to know about Attention Exercises there!