Obedience Basics: Building a Foundation of Focus

obedienceStefani Fortney, ABCDT  If you’re anything like me, bringing a new dog or puppy into your life and home awakens childhood fantasies of having a bond with your pet that is both magical and transcendent. You imagine Rover saving you from bandits, alerting you to the presence of a major goldmine on your property, then winning the Iditarod—and that’s just during your first week together. Taking dog obedience classes or lessons together never crosses your mind. It seems like the bond you share should be enough.

Or—maybe—you bring home your new best friend and immediately dive into obedience work, but you feel like every training session is like trying to corral a toddler on a sugar high. Maybe your pup reminds you of a spouse who would rather watch football on tv when all you want is to have a conversation. Does it feel like your dog finds everything more interesting than listening to you?

Focus is the foundation of all obedience work

Sometimes, we forget that focus is something that has to be learned and practiced like any other skill. In fact, focus is the first and most important skill you should teach your dog.  It’s the foundation for all other obedience work—and it strengthens the bond between you and your dog.

Here are a couple of exercises you can use at home to improve your pups focus.

The Name Game

Whether you’re adopting a puppy or an adult dog, the chances are good that you’ll be giving him a name that he doesn’t already know. Some dogs who have even been in our lives for quite awhile have learned to ignore their names as just being background noise with no real meaning. The very first step in focus training is to attach positive meaning to your dog’s name. For this exercise, you’ll need a regular collar and leash, lots of pea-sized treats (think diced hot dog), and a positive attitude.

  1. Put your dog’s collar and leash on, take your treats and go to a quiet room in your home.
  2. Say your dog name in a quiet, happy voice. Give your dog a treat.
  3. Repeat step 2. Do this for 5 minutes.


Easy, right? All you’re doing with this exercise is teaching your dog that when he hears his name, you give him something good. Before you know it, your dog will look to you when he hears his name. That’s the beginning of focus and the foundation of all obedience work.

Watch Me

Once your dog has started to learn that his name leads to good stuff, you can go one step further.  You’ll need the same things for this exercise, and you’ll still work in a quiet room.

  1. Hold one treat in each hand. With your right hand, hold the treat in front of yourobedience dog’s nose, then slowly move the treat up to the bridge of your nose.
  2. When your dog looks at your eyes (even if it’s just for a second), mark the behavior by saying “yes” or “good.” Immediately feed your dog the treat from your other (left) hand.
  3. When your dog is willingly making eye contact when lured, you can begin to use the command “watch me” before luring his gaze to your eyes.
  4. As he catches on, begin asking for longer periods of eye contact before marking and rewarding the behavior.

This exercise will help you to gain more focus from your dog, and will teach him that looking to you will result in rewards.

As you move forward in your obedience work, this foundation of focus will help you and your dog to work together. It will strengthen your bond and give your dog confidence in the knowledge that you are a kind, benevolent friend who he should pay attention to and look to for guidance.

If you need help with obedience training your dog call Guthrie Pet Hospital and sign up for one of our group classes or a one-on-one class with Stefani Fortney.

border decoration
border decoration