How to get your dog to pay attention to you outside

Cute brown and white dog with short legs facing the camera
Photo by Guilherme Stecanella / Unsplash

Your dog needs your help to learn how to focus his attention on you, especially outdoors. After he learns to pay attention, you'll be able to enjoy your walks and outdoor activities together more. The key is teaching him to look at you instead of sniffing or staring.

To teach your dog to pay attention outdoors, make sure he gets the best stuff by looking at you.

Practice in different rooms around the house until he can do it anywhere! Then take your show on the road. Prepare a few chopped bits of something wonderful he doesn't get every day. Dried liver, chicken, cheese, or smelly fish are excellent options.

1. Dogs need your attention to teach them how to focus. Start in a quiet location, with your dog on a leash if the area is large. Stand in one spot so your dog doesn't have a chance to sniff a large area. Make sure you have plenty of soft, tasty treats.

2. Say nothing and wait. Use a clicker or a marker word like "Good" when your dog turns to look at you, and immediately feed 3-5 treats in a row.  Repeat this process until your dog will reliably turn and look at you in order to get you to click or use your marker word. Don't use a marker word or clicker if your pup is looking away from you; teach him to pay attention by starting with eye contact.

Woman heeling with a small white wirehaired Jack Russell terrier on a leash

3. Once your dog looks at you within 3-5 seconds of you both standing still in one location, move to another. For the next few practice sessions, change your location but stay in boring places for your dog -- you don't want to give your dog excuses to ignore you.

5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 in increasingly distracting surroundings, like in front of a building or near another person walking by.

6. Practice this skill in different environments - outside, inside, when there are distractions around like people or other dogs. You can also practice each time you get ready to throw your dog's favorite toy. Simply wait for your dog to turn around and look at you before you throw the toy.

7. Continue practicing these steps every day so that your dog will learn how to focus his attention on you! The next time someone walks by while you're out with your dog, toss a treat on the ground away from the person. After your dog picks up the treat and looks at you, feed him 3-5 treats from your hand or throw his toy.

If you teach your dog how to focus on you using simple techniques, like waiting for eye contact with you before giving him treats or toys, he'll be more likely to pay attention when you're out and about.