There's no doubt dogs can be easily distracted. Squirrels, cats, cars, bikes, skateboards, the neighbor -- you name it, they're into it. With a little patience and some simple practice, you can teach your dog to stay focused on you during training sessions or while out on walks. It may take some time and work, but with consistency, your dog will eventually learn to keep his attention on you when it matters most.
Start with the good stuff
If you're having trouble getting your dog to pay attention to you, be sure you're handing over the best food you've got. We prefer pieces of cooked chicken, liver, or cheese as treats.
Make it easy for your dog to focus
Make it a no-brainer for your dog to focus on you. Start in the most boring location your dog can imagine, like the living room or laundry room. Make sure there are no other people or dogs around. Use a leash to restrain your dog if need be. Then bring out the good food -- real chicken, fish, dried liver, or cheese. You'll need 30-50 small pieces of food per training session.
Don't say anything to your dog! Wait until he makes it clear that he's focused on you and is eager to get a piece of the food you're holding. If he looks at you for at least three seconds, feed him 3-5 treats. If he doesn't look at you, quietly move to another spot in the room. Because you're in a boring place, he'll eventually come over and give you a look or a sniff. When he does, feed the 3-5 treats and move to another spot in the room. Practice this in short sessions of about five minutes each time.
Slowly increase the difficulty
As your dog improves his or her focus, make the tasks more difficult. Train around a familiar dog, a favorite person, or have someone squeeze a toy for you.
Start to move further away from your dog
Gradually move further away from your dog as you wait for him to turn and look at you. Getting your dog to look at you from across a room or your backyard is a great way to make the task harder.
Train at different times of the day, gradually getting closer to high-energy distractions like squirrels and other dogs. If your dog gets distracted in any of these new environments, go back to a boring location or far enough away from the distraction that he can focus on you again.
Train your dog with high-value items
Praise is always important, but teach your dog focus by making paying attention. Engage in play with brand-new toys or use a favorite treat or game to teach your dog to look away from distractions and to stay focused on you.
Dogs are naturally easily distracted, but with enough patience and practice you can teach your dog to focus on you. Training sessions should be 5 minutes long or less, in locations that are not too distracting for your dog at first.
Practice makes perfect, so make sure to keep practicing until your dog is able to focus consistently!