One of the most important behaviors that every dog should have is Attention. In other words, “Look at me”. I see so many dogs totally ignoring their human when they’re out on a walk. And, I see so many humans ignoring their dogs because they’re on their phone or chatting with someone else while their dog sniffs around and maybe eats stuff on the ground, or barks at other dogs, etc. dogs are dogs and will resort to what comes naturally to them unless we teach them how we want them to behave. They are not born with an innate sense of what is polite in human society, nor do they know what we expect from them unless we teach them.
Getting your dog to focus on you is fairly easy, if you start early such as in puppyhood or as soon as your new adult dog comes home. If your dog or pup is giving you direct eye contact, even when you haven’t asked for it, acknowledge them with praise and a happy smile. Call them to you for some pets or maybe a fun game of tug. While training for attention, you’ll want to use some high value food rewards and pay them when you get that nice eye contact. You’re teaching them that looking you in the eye is safe and fun. I prefer to wait my dog out and when they look at me without being lured or asked to I mark their behavior with a clicker and feed them some great stuff. All of these exercises work well at home or in low distraction areas. But, how do you get that attention in the face of all of the distractions out in the big world? Well, you start with baby steps, first at home, then on walks and hikes. If someone, dog or human comes into your dog’s environment, lure or ask for attention from him. And pay him when you get it. It’s helpful if you ask for a sit with him facing you. I talk him through it as well. I use my verbal cue for “Look” and I praise as he keeps looking at me and eating his treats. And depending upon your dog, those treats may need to come every second at first. Don’t expect that he’ll sit there calmly if he’s only getting rewarded every 10 seconds. You’ll need a high rate of reinforcement, especially in the beginning. You’ve also got to be proactive. Don’t wait for your dog to see the distraction and start to become interested in it. If you see it first, start asking for attention immediately, and hand out those treats. If you wait, you will have already lost her attention and once that happens, you can’t be sure that she even hears you yelling at her, because she’s hyper-focused on whoever just happened along. You might also find it helpful to put yourself between your dog and the other being that has come along to act as a barrier so she finds it easier to look at you.
At first, you might not be able to hold his attention the entire time it takes for the distraction to pass by or go away, but with lots of practice and high payouts, your dog will soon be looking directly at you anytime he spots someone coming his way.