Puppy classes often include exercises designed to entice your puppy to focus on you. After all, what can you teach your puppy if you can’t even get his attention? Some puppies seem to naturally attend closely to their owners, much to the envy of other people in class, whose puppies persist in barking, lunging at the end of their leashes, and in generally removing their attention from their owners the moment there is no treat in the owner’s hand. Why is this the case?

Puppy breed/type does contribute. Breeds that were created to work as a team with people, such as herding and so-called working breeds, often seem to tune into their owners more easily than breeds created to work on their own, such as terriers and hounds. However, I have seen puppies of all breeds and types with excellent attention to their owners. The most important factor is that the owners made themselves worth paying attention to. They made themselves the most relevant thing in the puppy’s environment.

Renowned English dog trainer Kay Laurence says “Focus is earned. Focus is not something you can force.” She tells the story of an elderly woman in one of her classes who always dribbled bits of treats on the floor as she struggled to get food out of her treat bag. She had better attention from her dogs than anyone else in class.

Why? Because she was unpredictable and interesting. Her dogs never knew when goodies might come raining down from her. It paid for them to keep their eyes on her.

How relevant are you to your puppy? The amount of attention you get from your puppy tells you the answer to that question. Are you a frequent source of fun, play, treats, access to interesting things? Are you unpredictable and exciting? Is he likely to have a better time tagging along with you than doing anything else?

Want better focus from your puppy? Don’t try to suppress his natural interest in his environment with ‘watch me’ exercises. Build a better relationship with him. Sprinkle fun surprises throughout your days together. Make it worth his while to pay attention to you – and focus will come naturally.

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