Dogs are like kids--they get easily distracted and when in high traffic areas or when other dogs are around, can become highly stimulated. This can sometimes make it hard to get your dog’s attention during training or when you are out. Before starting any exercises or training with your dog, here are a few tips to keep things fun, light, and keep your dog engaged!
Use high value treats (or your dog’s favorite toy)! These treats (or toy) get your dog’s attention immediately, and keep your dog’s attention! High value treats are usually very meaty and very tasty! However, this is not always the case, and you need to find out what gets your dog’s attention, sometimes it may be cheese, it can be veggies, or it can even be fruit. Make sure these high value treats are only used during training, so it is a special treat, and they must work for it.
Keep the reward close at hand! Keep the treat close enough to your dog’s nose so that your dog can smell it and almost get to it. This keeps your dog motivated and interested. If the reward is too far away, the dog may just give up and ignore you because the reward seems unattainable.
Let your dog get nibbles and licks of the treat! Once again, this keeps the reward in sight, and keeps your dog motivated. I let my dog lick and take small nibbles of the treat, to keep them engaged and wanting more. Not only does it keep them engaged, but with small bites, it prevents the dog from getting too full. If your dog becomes too full, they no longer want to work for the treat, because they aren’t hungry. Also be sure to hold onto the treat tight enough so your dog won’t take the whole thing out of your hand!
Make it a game! Dogs love games, and are more likely to enjoy, and even look forward to, training sessions and exercises if you make it into a fun, enjoyable time. After going through a few commands, I use a verbal cue (I use the word “break,” but you can use whatever cue you’d like) to signal that we are done, and I let her “chase” the treat, before letting her have it. Dogs have natural instincts, and one of them is to chase their prey! This makes the training session much more satisfying, engaging, and fun for them.
Praise your dog constantly! I know sometimes it can be frustrating if your dog does not pick up something immediately, especially because, well, we know our dogs are smart and capable of learning! . Remember, like people, every dog is different, and will learn at different paces. However, it does not help when we get frustrated with our dogs. Dogs are great at picking up on our emotions, and if we get frustrated, that makes them less enthusiastic and less engaged. Even if your dog does whatever you’re asking them only a few times, or only slightly the first few times, PRAISE THEM! Cut it short and let them play, so you and your dog don’t get frustrated.
These are just a few tips to keep your dog engaged when training or working on exercises. The most important thing is to have fun! Exercises and training were meant to physically and mentally stimulate your dog, but also to build a bond of trust with your best friend!