Grab and hold your dog’s attention with this trainer’s four easy tips to improve focus

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With so many exciting sights, sounds, and smells in the outside world, many pet parents find it difficult to get their dog to pay attention to what it is they're asking them to do.

There are many possible reasons why your dog's recall isn't reliable, or why they tug at their leash when you're out walking, but distractions are top of the list when it comes to pulling your dog's focus away from you.

Does that mean you're destined to struggle with getting your dog to be obedient when you're out and about? Not at all!

In fact, according to Piper Novick, a qualified trainer and founder of Happy Dogs Training, there are some simple things you can do to get more focus and attention from your dog in distracting situations. Read on to find out what they are...

1. Practice outside first: "Before you go inside the distracting area, first practice outdoors at a distance where you know your dog will be successful," explains Novick. "On your next visit, move indoors."

2. Reward your dog: "Reinforce your dog for paying attention to you. When your dog becomes distracted by something, use their leash to prevent them from reaching it and then reinforce when they redirect their attention back to you. We want your dog to know that it's more reinforcing to engage with you versus the environment."

3. Use high-value treats: Having a stash of the best dog treats on you is a great way to reward your dog for their focus and attention. You may find your dog also enjoys things like cubes of cheese or freeze-dried raw treats as an alternative to the more traditional options. 

4. Give your dog the same focus and level of attention that you want from them: "If we're distracted and engaged in other activities, our dogs will struggle to stay engaged," says Novick. "If I'm asking my dog for attention in a tight, busy line, I'm going to be engaged and rewarding frequently to match the difficulty of the situation."

Novick stresses that it's important to see capturing your dog's attention as a process and to practice patience. You're helping your dog to understand that paying attention to you is more reinforcing than engaging with the world around them, and that takes time.

We recommend taking your dog for a walk first before you put them in a busy environment as this will help them burn off some energy, making it easier for them to stay calm. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.