How to Get Your Dog's Attention

Learn how to teach your dog to look at you on cue, check in with you, and pay attention to you on walks. Turn attentiveness into a game, so your dog wants to focus on you.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #172

“My dog just doesn’t listen!” If you find yourself saying that often, this episode’s for you. I’ll explain how you can teach your dog to look at you instantly when you ask – and to check in with you often, just because, without your telling him to.

Teaching Your Dog to Look at You  

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First, let’s teach Zippy to look at you on cue. To do this, we set up a pattern that gets him to turn his attention away from you, then turn back. You’ll mark the moment when he turns back to you and immediately reward it. The mark isn’t a command or a cue – think of it as a little flag you plant to tell your dog what he’s done right.

Of course, Zippy won’t start out knowing what the mark means, but after a few reps he’ll learn to associate it with the reward you immediately give him. For your mark, you can use a clicker or a short word. A clicker is usually better, for reasons I explained in my earlier episodes on clicker training. It would be a good idea to read or listen to those, because they’ll help you use this method more effectively. If you decide to use a word as your marker, pick a short one that you can say the same way every time. Use a pleasant tone.

To teach your dog to pay attention to you, you also have to pay attention to your dog.

Here’s what you do:

1. Assemble a stash of 10 or 20 tasty, fingernail-size treats. Bring Zippy to a quiet spot in your home and make yourself comfortable. Without saying anything, show Zippy a tiny treat and then toss it gently on the floor right behind him or to his side. After he eats it he may spend a few moments looking for more. That’s fine – keep quiet and just wait. Sooner or later, he’ll look at you. As soon as you see him turn toward you, mark it with a click or word! Immediately feed him a treat.

2. Again toss a treat behind Zippy, wait for him to eat it and get around to looking back at you. As soon as he turns to you, mark that movement, and feed him a treat.

Repeat this pattern 5-10 times. By then, your dog will probably orient to you quickly after he eats the treat. Your mileage may vary, though, depending on how hungry or tired your dog is, how fast-moving he is in general, and how good the treats are. Chicken will almost always get better results than, say, carrot sticks.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).