Focus Games

For gaining eye contact and focus on you, and to start training an “Auto Watch”

The “Auto Watch”, where the dog checks in with you by giving you unprompted eye contact, is one of the most important default behaviors a dog can offer (other than a default Sit). This is especially great for reactive dogs; when they see a trigger for their reactivity, ideally they would check in with you for a treat and help escaping this stressful situation.

Here are a few of games developed by leading, well-respected trainers and behaviorists to help you begin to capture great eye contact and focus from your dog! Make sure your praise is dramatic and effusive while you’re practicing these games. You have to be more interesting than everything else on the planet, so you may need to up your game.

Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol (RP): RP teaches self-control, focus, and self-calming behaviors in the face of distraction. Click the link for the entire protocol. If your dog doesn’t Sit, it’s okay to do this in a Stand, or if Sit is too easy, go back to Day 1 and start over with the dog in a Down.

Leslie McDevitt‘s Doggie Zen: This game teaches the dog to give his/her focus to the human rather than the delicious meaty bits. Begin by holding the treat near your face and waiting for the dog to shift her eyes from the treat to you. When this happens, mark with, “Yes!” and give the dog the treat. Once this is easy for the dog to do, move the treat further away from your face and wait for the dog’s eyes to shift to yours. After a few sessions, play with different locations (up, down, to the side). See if you can build all the way up to the treat being in motion. Check out the adorable puppy playing the Doggie Zen game in the title link.

Leslie McDevitt’s Pattern Games: Pattern Games are great for building focus and self-control through simple, play-based activities. We recommend the Up and Down game, the Ping Pong game, and the 1,2,3 Treat! game. The 1,2,3 Treat! game is not in the video linked in the title. With your dog at your side, count your first three steps out loud and on your fourth step say Treat! as you give one. Repeat. This game helps your dog focus on you and may allow your reactive dog to move through space more easily.

“Ask Permission” Game: Do this one on leash. Throw toy or treat beyond the length of the leash; don’t let the dog drag you to it. Wait for your dog to look at you, mark with a Yes! as soon as you see the eye contact. Praise enthusiastically and run together to get the treat. Make a game of it! This game makes good use of the Premack Principle, teaching your dog that doing what you want means he gets to do what he wants, and you’ll do it together!!

“Follow the Leader” Game: Lure your dog to your knee and feed a tasty treat, then turn and walk away. Encourage the dog to follow you with your voice and body language. When he gets to your knee again, treat and repeat. This game can be done on or off leash.

Find It: Show your dog you have a treat, toss it a few feet from you in any direction and say “Find It.” As your dog moves toward his reward, mark his movement with a click or “Yes.” This is a simple game with only one rule, so the dog doesn’t have to think about anything. It may help him settle in stressful situations, helps dogs who have trouble with Loose Leash Walking settle into a walk, and can help you work with a mouthy dog or a dog who takes treats too roughly.

Dr. Sophia Yin’s Focus Exercises: These are simple walking patterns designed to get your dog’s focus on you for short distances, gradually leading up to longer distances. Click the links below: