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Dog Training and Attention

Posted on 08/30/12 44 Comments

I have looked into your eyes with my eyes.

I have put my heart near your heart.

~ Pope John XXIII

A lot is made about “training” your dog’s eyes to look into yours when you are working together. Some schools use force to demand it, many have special “attention” classes to create it.

I have to admit there was time in my training when I did the same thing. I went crazy on making sure my dogs eyes were on me at least to start each exercise and for many obedience routines throughout the entire exercise.

But then it struck me several years into this thing called dog training. Imagine if you were performing a task and someone forced you to focus your gaze on a particular spot for an extended period of time. Now if that “spot” was say piece of chocolate cake (vegan of course) or say two puppies playing with glee sure we could do it. But imagine if it was something you just had no interest in looking at, or worse yet you were a little afraid what then?

Your dog’s focus for work or for you, like every other effective action in our lives must be inspired. Look at those discovered stars with the amazing voices that appear on those reality TV shows, at the end of their performances no one needs to tell the audience to applaud, the performance has inspired a standing ovation and tears from many. Those Olympians that work at their skills 5 hours a day, never considering any of it anything less than part of their routine because they are taking “inspired action”. Effective action to stop smoking, lose weight or keep a tidy bedroom or home can’t be bribed or forced, that kind of coercion creates only short lived action.

Attention from our dogs, just like any other effectively created response, needs to come from a place of inspiration. We need to earn their desire to focus by inspiring their desire to focus on their work, or if appropriate us. No one has to force a dog to watch a squirrel dancing across the backyard.

Attention from the dog is a by-product resulting from  effective, inspired training rather than a single response that requires “training.” 

When you get it right  your dog will never want to take his eyes off of you and you will have to create a new response; that of inspired focus forward towards something else!

Fun with the Pictures

Can you guess which one of my dogs are which in these pictures? I took all of these pictures this morning. DeCaff & Feature will be easy, Buzz & Swagger may be more difficult. It made me a bit sad when I was posting these to see that Encore at 8 years old is already going grey around the eyes and Buzz at 16 is still not. Then I thought about it and I guess it makes sense when you know each dog’s personality. All of Encore’s life she has taken on every emotional or physical battle I dealt with while Buzzy has lived his life like a college frat boy at a party impatiently waiting for them to tap the next kegger!

Today I (and your dogs) am grateful for everyone taking inspired action in their dog training.


  1. terri says:
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 12:34am

    I have a problem of, when my Liza gets so excited she wants to play the game of chase or bark and try to engauge the game of play with other dogs, How do I stop this? It seems she has to get this out of her system when we first enter an agility ring. She’s only 2 years old and full of it. How do I solve this?


    • Laura W. says:
      Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 11:21am

      You need to put tons of value into playing and interacting with you, and presumably (I don’t do agility) more value into the equipment and agility in general. Every time she chooses to pay attention to you, reward that, in a variety of ways (chance to play a game, chance to tug, chance to take a piece of equipment, food). I put Susan’s Crate Games to full use at an obedience trial. When I release my dog from her crate, her first reaction when coming out is to orient towards me, because she knows fun stuff is about to start. I reward that orientation, and continue to reward her attention on me from the crate into the ring and throughout our routine.


  2. sharon empson says:
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 1:03pm

    Took my Bindi girl to her first Rally O class and her attention was riveted on me. I was very blessed. I have not used compulsion, but positive training and she has eaten it up. She did get bored waiting her turn. I wonder if any of you have some fun games to play that aren’t a major distraction to those around us, but will help Bindi as she waits for her turn at the rally course. Something that is fun for her. If you have any games that do not require running around an being a distraction, I would appreciate hearing about them. Of course we play touch games, I’ve taught het to put her chin in my hand, to lay her chin on my leg, to run back and forth on her mat and in and out of her crate. (just a few inches from me since I didn’t want to distract others)
    Any suggestion? sharon empson


    • Laura W. says:
      Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 2:07pm

      I hear you, it’s not always easy to play games with your dog in every environment. I do obedience with my dog, and so I have had to come up with games for her that aren’t too disruptive to those around us at often-crowded trials. Some things we do that work for us: spins in place, circling my left leg (to her right), quiet tugging with a small tug toy (I remember Susan saying once that she taught at least one of her dogs to play tug with her fingers locked behind their upper canine teeth), sit-pretty (sit up and ‘beg’), asking for just one step of heeling, in any direction, including pivots, and a smaller/quieter version of one of Susan’s games, which involves pushing the dog away and running – I just push and don’t run – gets my girl just as excited because of the history she’s had with the running in this game (I often play the full game inside the obedience ring between exercises). And don’t forget that down-time during class is a great time to also practice some duration sits and downs.


  3. Pat D says:
    Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 11:49am

    I finally brought the new puppy home 3 months ago. My first pup in 11 years!! A beautiful Brittany boy named Pippin. I am determined to train this guy with all the things I have learned in RRR and PP and Contact Success(at this point just doing body awareness and fundamental games from this package), plus all the SG DVDs. We are having so much fun, he loves playing games.

    So, we have played lots of “it’s yer choice”, crate games, etc etc with extra toys or food containers in the area, which he, of course, instantly would focus on. I, trying to emulate Susan would cover it with my hand and say “that would be mine” and then wait for him to leave it and start whatever game we were playing again.

    So I have to share that in the last few weeks he has actually generalized that phrase to other things 🙂 He loves to grab, in a split second, one sock while I am putting the one other on or steal a roll of toilet paper or paper towels or whatever else he happens to spy, and run with it. I know better than to chase him, so trying to get it back was problematic. One day recently he took something and was jumping around trying to engage me in his game of keep away while I tried to ignore him. Then on an impulse I said “Hey, that would be mine!” LOL, his expression was priceless, he instantly stop his cavorting and sat. I calmly walked over and held out my hand and said “Thank you” at which point he dropped it in my hand. We then had a happy little party of tug with something that was appropriate to play with!!

    I was amazed and very pleasantly surprised. I have tried it again a few times and his response remains the same. This was a totally unexpected byproduct of playing all these training games with him.

    Thank you Susan! Pippin and I are having loads of fun and joyful times together every day as we both learn about and bond to each other. I love all your dvds, online courses, newsletters, etc. While I have always loved training my dogs and always used positive methods, I have never enjoyed training this much!


  4. Anna says:
    Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 10:23pm

    Yes! I agree! This is a great post! I agree that attention from the dog is a by-product resulting from effective, inspired training rather than a single response that requires “training.” Thank you for sharing this to us ! Keep posting !


  5. Janet says:
    Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 3:34pm

    Re: dangers of the “wrapped” style of heeling. After >30 yrs in the obedience game, it still amazes me a dog with its head coiled around to look at the handler’s face can be deemed “perfect” when the AKC Regs(Ch.2 S.18)state “the dog should be…straight in line with the direction the handler is facing.” While judges(Ch.2,S.2)have room for interpretation, the regs DO support a dog pointing straight ahead. Trust me,your dog knows where you are and if you train w/o punishment and for the good of the relationship, “willingness and enjoyment” will follow!


    • Laura W. says:
      Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 5:41am

      I have much less than 30 years in obedience, but I’ve always taken that rule to mean the dog’s hind feet are following in the same path as the front feet, i.e. the dog’s back is parallel to the path of the handler. Never thought about it applying to the head. To me, it’s natural that a dog would want to look at the handler, and in my limited experience, it’s what happens when you have willingness and enjoyment.


      • Jenny H says:
        Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 12:38am

        I was always strict on insisting that my dogs looked where they were walking when we were heeling. Heeling should be a way of moving effectively together when out especially in crowded situations.

        I feel that the wrap around-heeling came in because people were allowing their dogs too far forward so that they could no longer see their handler’s leg in their peripheral vision.

        When I see a dog heeling looking up intently at its handler’s face I always feel uncomfortable because the dog looks SO anxious 🙁

  6. Michelle says:
    Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 3:11am

    Decaff, Swagger, Buzz, Feature, Encore:)

    Beautiful pictures, and great comments. I have been of tow minds myself on whether to train my dog to look at me while heeling or not. He is quite small and I feel it could be detrimental to his back/neck to look at me for extended periods of time at such an odd angle. A well known obedience trainer has damaged her dog in precisely this manner, as her dog is so keen on staring her in the eyes while walking. Now, at the age of about 8 years she has had to retire her dog and not allow her to walk at heel anymore, as she instantly has severe back pains as a result.


  7. Tina says:
    Friday, September 21, 2012 at 2:43am

    wow !Great post! I agree that attention from the dog is a by-product resulting from effective, inspired training rather than a single response that requires “training.”
    thank you for sharing this to us ! Keep posting !


  8. margaret robinson says:
    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 2:02pm

    sent several emails but no response. can anyone tell me please how to contact Susan’s website administrators as although i have registered i still cannot access the website. Tried to sign on for newsletter and free audio but told i am already registered. have never received an news letter and when I tried to sign up for the free audio I’m told that my email is not known. So on the one hand Im told that Im already registered and on the other hand Im told that my email is not known. Please help Thanks


  9. Sandy says:
    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 8:44am

    Thanks Susan for the lovely photos. They are very inspiring. I have been working the games with one of my dogs who seems to love me intently until its time to work in agility and then she loses focus. Well… I have discovered very recently that she stresses up when we mess up as a team and she takes off. I don’t think she trusts me not to fuss at her so she leaves me and runs around the ring. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to help her over that with just the word “yes” when she turned right back on her name (from the call once game) and she ran the best run ever. Thanks for giving me a better way to train.


  10. Esther says:
    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 6:20am

    So true and so very well put. Still lots of people here in France (even the onces saying they’re into positive dog training) fall of the wagon every now and then and let themselves convince by others that for some things you need force. I’m still not giving into it with my dog and although I do very little planned training we’re getting better slowly but surely. Last FCI obedience competition we didn’t get the best score, but the most of the applause and compliments from judge and public because of the beautiful contact and relationship that showed through our work. For me that was the best prize there was to win!


    • Laura W. says:
      Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 7:39am

      I agree, Ester! At the last trial I entered, we did not qualify (she lay down on the long sit after attending to an itchy rear end), but I can most assuredly say, she was a happy dog in the ring. I unfortunately cannot say that about the dog who earned High In Trial.


  11. Marcia says:
    Friday, August 31, 2012 at 2:36pm

    So agree with you, Susan! Focus is gift we must earn. My little pup was following me around the room to room the other day. I got kind of annoyed, just wanted her to lay down and relax. Then, thankfully, I realized it was a hard earned gift….she WANTED to be with me, to focus on me. All those hours playing games, being the cookie, results in a puppy who thinks I’m pretty fun to hang with. Nice.


  12. Susan says:
    Friday, August 31, 2012 at 7:53am

    Great post.


  13. Mary M says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 7:00pm

    Love this post, you taught me this lesson early on as well. And I smile and tear up a bit at the comment about the muzzle whitening, as I see this with my own….young one more white then middle aged (he lives life large, she has already had too much life in front of her for such a young one)….wonder if there is science behind dogs’ personalities & medical issues and their muzzles going white? Just a thought….Dr. Leslie wanna start a study in your spare time 😉 I will collect and help analyze data!

    I know I didn’t get grey hair until major life altering losses happened for me…hmmmm so maybe there is science behind it and I am ignorant to that fact?


  14. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 6:39pm

    Your blog came at a good time, as I’m waiting to go get my Snap at the Vets – Torn dew claw that had to be removed – In reading the different characteristics of your dogs, I never thought about Snap’s character until now. But looking back 2 years of her young life, I’m concluding she takes every thing she does seriously and has fun doing it – she loves to work and her eyes shine with joy when we are training! Now…when it comes to pain? OMGoodness she can not handle it and stresses out major. I have learned not to make even a tiny deal over it as she sucks it in like a sponge and becomes a drama queen. Thank you for this post – makes me love my Snap more and I can’t wait to bring her home and give her a wee bit of pampering… I love her so much…

    Thank you from a grateful student, Susan…


  15. Linda says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 4:29pm

    I love Encore’s face, gray and all.


  16. Christine says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 4:27pm

    My black lab was nearly nowwhere white when she died older than 16 years, my deadgrass chessie who we always called a liver chi dog, got grey late too, my brown chessie started at age 3 and now 6 years old has more white hair that the oldies ever had. I have read some chessies have this. Both my girlds the very early and the nearly never white haired lab, were/are very emotional and attached to my emotions. With my lab who was proved and trained carefully I faild many tests because she would feel my stress or I could not work her when I was doing exams at university the days befor and after or when I was feeling bad from female hormones.


  17. Judy Roger says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 4:20pm

    Loved this post,articulate,accurate,put in words exactly what I have been feeling


  18. Jodi Altman says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 2:38pm

    My dog’s focus for work and me are stellar and for that, I have you to thank. Good luck in the two big competitions coming your way.


  19. VICTORIA JONES says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 2:19pm

    I agree completely. Forcing a dog to anything is counter productive and just making training no fun and therefore giving the dog less focus in the long run. (IMO.)


    • Laura W. says:
      Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 2:24pm

      It can be a vicious circle. Force the dog to pay attention…training becomes less fun for the dog…dog wants to pay attention even less…trainer gets more upset at the dog not paying attention…

      Many of us have probably been there at one time or another until we became more enlightened.


  20. Laura W. says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 1:54pm

    The subject of this blog is most definitely in the top 5 of the many great things I’ve learned from you. Earned attention is so much better than taught attention, in so many ways.


  21. chloe says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 1:38pm

    I love the quote! and the pics of course


  22. sharon says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 1:20pm

    Your Decaff shot made me cry. I lost my white JRT Dixie, a NADAC pre elite grand
    champion in 2002, in Feb. Oh those spotted ears…


    • Sharon says:
      Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:44pm

      I mean to say that she had a great NADAC Championship in 2002 but I lost her in Feb 2012. Your Decaff does resemble her: smooth coated, mostly white, black ticking… I bet you have great fun with your white pup as I did with mine. Safe travels.


  23. Angela says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 1:08pm

    To me what you are saying is the play via games = attention on you 🙂


  24. Andrea says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:15pm

    Great thoughts as always. I was playing with the foster brat today on the lawn and he was giving me crazy focus. I was reflecting on the days when I taught focus as a specific skill and wondering if though I no longer teach it specifically, it should still go on his skill list as he sure has it down pat!
    Thanks as always.


  25. Pat D says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:14pm

    I totally love this blog! I have always hated those attention exercises. They seemed to make dogs who look at you without that sparkle in their eyes, so I have never spent much time trying to train it!!! This so validates my feelings 🙂


    • Goldcity says:
      Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 6:32pm

      Spot on article! These days I work on getting my clients to wait for the dog to make the right choice. Instead of constantly luring or ‘hounding’. Example: let the dog choose to wait and walk politely on a loose lead instead of tugging into position or correcting. Same with eye contact – behaviour capture is the way to go. Confidence can be stripped by coercing it when the dog is uncomfortable about doing it- best to wait and let the dog choose the response or behaviour. And when the dog looks up into your eyes with a happy and expressive face screaming out adoration it’s the best feeling in the world!


  26. Pat D says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:07pm

    Decaff,Buzz,Swagger,Feature, and Encore!


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:41pm

      Yep, you guys have got it! DeCaff, Buzz, Swagger, Feature & Missy En.


      • Pat D says:
        Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 7:20pm

        I thought Buzz was the hard one to figure…he looks too young in this photo, but then the white line between the eyes gave him away 🙂
        All great photos………..

  27. Julie Stanek says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:32am

    Dart started greying early. It may be more inherited physically than emotional toll.


  28. Nicole says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:31am

    You mean all those years spent at keg parties was actually good for me?


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:41pm

      @Nicole, roflmao!


  29. Suzanne Wesley says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:11am

    Decaff, Buzz, Swagger, Feature and Encore.

    Inspiring words Susan. Good luck at the the upcoming FCI championsihps!


  30. Anji says:
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 11:03am

    Decaff, Buzz, Swagger, Feature, Encore?
    Great blog…now I want cake!


    • Betsyboo says:
      Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 11:57am

      Its incredible what you can do when you use clicker training and other positive methods- my betsy is no means a pro but I am still amazed at what she has achieved in such a short amount of time 🙂 She has taught me so much! She has her own youtube channel- I think she thinks its me that is being trained! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoC8Zdmp3qxKVgn5jTebCVw?feature=guide


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