Atten-shun!

I find it remarkable that dog owners expect such high standards of their dog in terms of behaviour without having ever invested time and effort in being able to capture and hold their dog’s interest and attention.

I’m not necessarily talking about a fabulous recall at 12 weeks (or indeed 12 years – we have Terriers after all, and recall is rarely ever a strong point). I’m talking about being able to concentrate on you, hold that concentration amidst various distractions and await the next command.

If you can’t get the attention of your dog, in whatever situation, how do you honestly expect them to offer good manners and actions. Terriers are constantly scanning for opportunity, their little cost-benefit brains always calculating, always working away.

They won’t naturally focus on you, or your commands. Why bother? They are independent thinkers, they were bred to take matters into their own hands and work alone. So, rather than being “in charge”, we need to work as a team with our terrier.

Someone once said that “attention is the mother of all behaviours” and they are right. If you can win their attention, you’re working together and you can achieve wonderful results.

If you are experiencing poor behaviours from your Terrier, before you start working on improving that specific problem, you need to be able to consider if you have their attention. At any time. In any situation. It’s likely that poor behaviour is simply your terrier using their independence to their own advantage, and making poor decisions by themselves because they’re allowed to do it, and don’t need to factor in the rest of their pack (you) in their cause and effect scenarios.

How do we therefore encourage attention?

Try this. Ignore your dog for a bit. Every single time your dog makes eye contact with you, instantly say “hi!” in an excited voice and offer a high-value treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Keep moving around, and reward on eye contact only. Doesn’t matter if they’re sitting or standing or jumping or whatever, you’re simply praising them for their attention, not any other command.

Start increasing the time between eye contact and reward. So they have to be looking at you for maybe 5 seconds, holding your gaze. Repeat etc.

Ever increasing time, always in lots of different scenarios and times.

Give it a go. It’s the start of your behaviour journey. Once you have their attention, they’re ready to work with you on something new.

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