Focus and attention games

Dogs, Dog training, Adopters

Teach these useful commands to build a bond and keep them close, especially good for newly adopted dogs or those who can be reactive or easily distracted out on walks.

Start in your house and then once they have the idea move to busier places outdoors as they improve.

Hand touch

Put a tasty treat between two of your fingers and hold your hand out to the side at about waist height. Your dog should nose your hand to get the food. Repeat a few times then follow the same motion but don’t use a treat – say ‘yes’ and reward from the other hand when the dog touches your hand. When your dog is reliably nose touching you, add the word ‘Touch’ as a command.

Below, Jackson the puppy learning touch – Jackson had a very short attention span and would jump up. Not so bad then but we knew he had the potential to grow into a 30 or 40kg dog! So the touch also helps him learn 'four paws on the floor' rules.

Name reflex

Start by saying the dog’s name in a happy chirpy voice. When they look at you pop a tasty treat straight in their mouth! Keep repeating this randomly and soon the dog will look at you expectantly when you say their name! You can make it harder by gradually building up the level of distractions.


Call your dog to you, making sure you use the dog’s name and your ‘recall’ cue (e.g. “Rover, come”.) When they get to you, drop a few treats on the floor and run backwards to a new location about 10 paces away, then call your dog again, dropping treats when they arrive. Repeat this a few times, although you will probably find that your dog is running with you as soon as they have eaten the treats! Keep repeating the ‘come’ cue though, as this game builds up a very good association for future recalls. You can reward with a toy on the last repeat.

Eye Contact - Look at me!

One of the most simple and effective games to play with your dog is to reward them for making eye contact with you. This is a great way to keep and hold your dog's attention when there is something you don't want the dog to react to.  

Find it!

Encouraging your dog to sniff the ground is great – this sniffing behaviour is naturally used by dogs with great social skills as a signal to another dog asking them to calm things down. All you have to do is throw a few treats on the floor, just out of reach of the dog. Tell your dog to 'Find it!' and watch as they happily sniff about eating the treats ignoring the other distractions. You can even teach your dog to wait until you have thrown the treat.

TOP TIP Use treats which match the situation – the more distracting the environment the more tasty the treats you need.

Let's Go / U-Turn

Being able to quickly reorient yourself and your dog in case of an oncoming emergency, like another dog, is a great skill but you do have to practice lots when you don't need it!

On lead and start by walking in a straight line for a few steps. Say 'Let's go!' and put a tasty treat right under your dogs nose, lure your dogs head round so you are facing back the way you came and walk off in that direction, allowing your dog to have to the treat.

Practice with this until your dog is smoothly turning and starting to anticipate the turn when you give the command. Then stop using the treat as a lure to get the dog around but instead use it as a reward once the dog has come with you. You can make it fun by running a few steps once you have turned and playing a game with your dog instead of using treats every time.

As with other games, move out to a quiet outdoor space when you are both ready. It is important that your dog doesn't start to associate the sudden change of direction with another dog or person coming towards them so begin practice when dogs are in the distance and gradually work closer to the other dog or person.

Go See / The ladder of temptation

This is an exercise which teaches your dog that to get the thing they really want they must pay attention to you and wait for you to release them. This can really help dogs deal with the frustration of being on lead in a constructive way.

Start by making a list of 20 to 30 things your dog likes and put them in order of awesomeness from your dog's point of view. At the bottom may be a dry dog biscuit, then a boring treat, then a good dog treat, then a bit of ham then and at the top may be your dogs favourite ball or a bit of warmed up liver pate on toast – all depending what your dog loves the most. The more items you have in the list the better as each stage should be slightly more challenging for your dog.

When you have your list get the lowest value item and, keeping your dog on lead, put the item out of reach of the dog on the floor. Stay still while the dog tries to pull, scratch, whine or fixate on the item. Whilst your dog is doing this just ignore them. As soon as your dog looks at you even for a second tell them 'good dog' and the more they look at you the more happy and excited you should get rewarding them with attention.

When your dog has stopped fixating on the item and is paying you attention you can say 'Go See' and let the dog go to get the item.

You can repeat with the same item, or if your dog gets it quickly you can move up your list to the next item. By the time your dog has completed a few stages you can start rewarding with smaller titbits and treats as a distraction before the dog gets the item. 

My dog doesn't get it – they won't leave the treat

Congratulations! You already have an extremely focused dog and all you need to do is redirect that focus. However, you may have made this a bit too hard for your dog at this stage. Try the following...

  • Put the item further away - closer items are much harder
  • Don't wait for such a prolonged period of interaction with you
  • Find something your dog likes less
  • Use a 'distraction noise' to get your dog's attention if they are too fixated (such as a cough, pursed lips squeak etc)

My dog doesn't get it – they aren't interested

Try practicing when your dog is hungry – use their bowl of food just before dinner time. You can also use a squeaky toy, a favourite person coming in, a toy being thrown or bounced on the floor, a favourite sniff spot on a walk or a dog to go and play with as rewards for this exercise.

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