My Dog Won't Focus in Training!
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Your dog should get some training several times per week even if just to practice what they already know. Training sessions are short and fun so this should be easy to do - in theory. But an unfocused dog can turn a playful 5 minute session into a 15 minute chore pretty easily. Is your dog having trouble focusing in your training sessions? Check out these 4 tips to make sure you aren't making a classic mistake!
1. Structure Your Session
Does your dog even know that they are in a training session? Do they understand when it is over? I always begin by TELLING them that we are doing training. Sure, they don't know what this means at first but they will soon catch on. In training isn't free play time and there are specific expectations for them. Let's help them understand when they are in this mode so that they can learn how fun and rewarding it is. Right before I get my things (treat pouch, clicker, etc) I say to Nana "Want to do some training?"
Then I get myself ready and say "Ok let's do some training!" Then we begin our session. This simple ritual helps Nana know when she is to stay near and look for opportunities to follow instructions or figure out something new to earn rewards.
Similarly it helps to let them know when the session is over. With Nana I simply say "Ok all done!" in a cheery voice before I pack away our training tools and grab a toy for us to play with.
Oh - and play with your dog after you train! You don't want the anticipation of the end of the session to be a bad thing. The rewards might stop but the shenanigans begin! Even if it's just for a couple minutes I think you'll see a huge difference following up your sessions with play time.
2. Set Yourself Up For Success
Training sessions don't need to be long - in fact I typically suggest they be rather short. But even if it is only 5 minutes you need to be present for your dog for the whole 5 minutes. They are so attuned to us and our inner state that your stress and frustration can really throw things off. Sometimes engaging in a little self care ritual before you do some training can help get you in the right state of mind. Enjoy a nice cup of coffee, do a little meditation, whatever works best for you. But don't start the training session if you aren't sure that you can be fun and patient every minute. And it's ok if you aren't! Just wait for a better time. You will be a much better teacher for your dog when you can have fun with it too.
3. Set Your Dog Up For Success
Likewise let's make sure we help our dogs be in the best position possible to give us their focus. Training is a team sport and both of you need to be ready. First off unless we are adding distraction to training with a behavior that is already learned let's make sure our learning environment is as quiet and distraction free as possible. Tidy the room a bit, put the dog's toys away, ask other members of the household to give you some space, et cetera.
The dog's mental state is important to manage and plan around as well. Are you using food rewards? You want them to be hungry but not so hungry that the excitement overpowers them. Is your dog being silly and our of control? Taking them for a good walk or engaging them in a good play session before training could do wonders. With my own dog after she has breakfast and some time for her food to settle we go for a nice long walk. Then we play in the backyard for a bit. After we come in is when we usually do training. For her that's the best setup. Every dog is different and everybody has different scheduling demands. Just be mindful of the dog's mental state and do what you can to help them be ready.
4. Always End on a High Note
It is very important that we end the session while the dog is still having fun. This will ensure that they are more pumped up for the next training session to start. If you start to notice your dog get more distracted or less enthusiastic in a session immediately ask them to do something simple and easy, give them a big reward with lots of praise, and then end the session. Try to time your sessions to end before the dog begins "checking out" like that. If they typically start to get bored after 5 minutes end your session after 4. Every dog is different, some can stay engaged for long training sessions and others can't. But always make sure you can end on a high note and not when the dog can't wait to move on to something else.
Looking for ideas of behaviors to teach your dog? Check out this article on my 12 Basic Behaviors.
Are you already doing all of these things? I bet we can still find the key to getting your dog back on track. Have a look at my services or just reach out and we can get you on the right path.
Robin Wong is a certified dog trainer, a graduate of the Victoria Stilwell Academy, and the father of a Boerboel / Ridgeback mix named Nana. He founded Holy Sit to provide premium positive dog training in London Ont.