This is the first exercise I do in all of my classes. I don’t believe in telling my dogs to pay attention – it should be their default behavior.
The key to mastering this exercise is PATIENCE.
Think of it like a job interview: Just like you cannot make a boss pick you, you cannot makeyour dog attentive to you (ultimately the boss/dog are going to make that decision by themselves) – but you can present yourself from your best side and try to be as appealing and awesome as possible 🙂
With your dog on leash, sit on the ground in a moderately distracting enviromnent with treats (and, optionally, a clicker).
Do not encourage your dog to interact with you at all. Do not talk, lure, gesture, coax or manipulate him in any way. Do not call his name or make noises. Your dog is free to pull on the leash, sniff the ground, stare at things.
If your dog barks, move further away from the distraction and try again. Barking is self-reinforcing so ignoring it does not work, and it can show that the dog is already over his threshold.
If your dog makes eye contact with you or comes closer, mark it (either with a “yes!” or a click) and treat (and/or play if your dog enjoys toys).
He is free to go and be distracted by the environment at any time, but if he CHOOSES YOU, mark and treat.
If he offers eye contact for more than a split second, give him several treats. As long as he looks at you, you can give him treats and praise him. We want to teach the dog that the longer he offers eye contact and attention, the better!
The idea behind this is that you cannot force your dog to like to pay attention to you – but you can show him that the choice to pay attention will pay off, ultimately making him want to pay attention, because he understands the outcome of his choices.