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This is one of our favorite and most used games with our own dogs.
Offered Attention

To teach your puppy this game, start by placing a tasty treat on the floor right in front of you. As soon as puppy eats the treat, he should look up at you as if to say “yum! can I have another?” Right as he looks at you, click your clicker (or use your verbal ‘click’) and then place another tasty treat on the floor. Repeat, until you get into a nice rhythm.

Notice the trainer in the video is never asking for attention. She is rewarding attention! In the long run, this teaches a dog to automatically check in with you without being asked. You can avoid getting into the habit of nagging and begging for attention by practicing this offered attention game.

 

Troubleshooting for dogs who do not offer attention is easy! Better rewards and/or a less distracting environment should do the trick. Also, some puppies don’t like to look in your eyes. So for now, you can click and reward just a head-turn toward you, or looking at your torso.

Vary the game as soon as puppy starts to get the idea. The trainer in the video is tossing the treat instead of just placing it on the ground each time. This makes the reward more fun for the puppy, because he gets to chase as well. It also gives the puppy a greater challenge because he has to turn around and find the trainer before he gets his click. Once puppy is very good at this game, you can play it in more and more distracting environments too.

Expert Level Games 

  • Every so often, when puppy looks at you, ask him for a known behavior, like sit or down. As soon as he does the behavior, click and toss another treat. This is a great way to practice quickly responding to cues.
  • Practice throwing a reward treat toward a distraction, so that after puppy eats the treat he has to turn away from the distraction to look at you. Big reward!
  • Another activity this week is following. Once you have mastered the offered attention game, and the following game, try tossing your reward treat past a distraction so that puppy has to ignore the distraction on the way to get the treat, and on the way to return to you to follow. Best puppy!

Why is Offered Attention so important?

To respond to our cues, our puppies have to notice them. To notice our cues, our puppies need to be paying attention to us.

Too often, we make it easy for our puppies to tune us out. Why do they do this? We pay all the bills, right? We have the keys to the car and can open the dog food container. You’d think they’d be hanging on our every word.

But, they usually aren’t. Why not? Truth is, they have been paying attention. They have learned that we’ll let them know when we need them, so there’s not need to check in. They’ve learned that when they do check in they are often ignored. They’ve learned that attention to the environment is almost always more rewarding than attention to their person.

We can change this by catching and rewarding our dogs for paying attention to us, in both formal training sessions and in daily life. Instead of nagging and begging for puppy to pay attention, try waiting instead. Have something really great in mind and do nothing to prompt your puppy to look at you. The instant he does, say yay! and deliver your exciting reward. The more times you do this, the more puppy will check in.

Once your have practiced catching and rewarding puppy for checking in with you in non-distracting environments, try upping the stakes. When you get out of the car in a new place, just wait. Have a favorite toy or several treats ready. Let puppy look around, but not go anywhere or do anything interesting. Wait for puppy to check in with you. As soon as he does say yay! and deliver your exciting reward (make it more exciting that the environment). Then you can start your walk or exploration. Soon, puppy will look to you first in new environments.

The tough part is the waiting. Remember not to prompt puppy, just wait for the attention. Having puppy learn to check in frequently without being asked is a valuable foundation skill. Ideally, you want puppy to think “when in doubt, check in”.

Notice and reward all offered attention: If your puppy is playing with other dogs and swings by to say hello, reward him. This behavior will likely fade with age if it is not reinforced (rewarded) now.