Keeping Attention Without Treats!
Walking Your Dog With Distractions
by Kimberly LeMaster
It can be incredible at how attentive your dog can be on a walk, heeling nicely beside you in perfect form. Of course, you have that treat bag attached to your hip to reward him for his on going good behavior. What happens when you leave the treat bag at home? Your dog may become a leash puller, lunging towards leaves blowing in the wind and barking at other dogs walking across the street. What happened to that perfect loose leash walking, attention giving best friend? You can teach your dog to pay attention while fading out treats during your walks through the use of a positive interrupter noise.
A positive interrupter noise is a sound of your choosing that will not only stop a dog from whatever it is that they’re doing, it will redirect their attention on to you as a reflex instead of just a trained behavior. This sound can be a kissing sound, a clicking sound, or whatever it is you want. It must be a sound used exclusively for interrupting a behavior and gaining your dog’s attention, and always be rewarded in one way or another when he reacts to it. By using this every day during various activities your dog may be doing, whether he is playing roughly with another dog or eating his dinner, it will become an automatic reflex for him to alter his attention to you. It works just like when you lay your hand on a hot stove. You automatically pull it away. However, with a dog he will automatically stop anything that he is doing and look to you for direction.
Charge it up!
First, charge up your sound just like you would a clicker. Make the sound, and reward with a high value food item such as cheese. Do this for about 9 to 15 times. Then, wait until your dog begins to do something else, such as offering alternative behaviors such as sitting, laying down, sniffing, or pawing. Make the sound and wait for eye contact. When he gives that eye contact, give him the reward! This will take time, and you should include using the interrupter at random throughout your daily life. You do not have to give a food reward each time when doing this every day in a variety of situations and activities. Instead, sometimes give him a treat, sometimes give him some petting, and sometimes throw a ball for him. Reward him differently to make the rewards random for him. If he never knows what he’s going to get, he will always be ready and willing to react to the noise until it becomes a reflex. Always treat after he gives you eye contact!
When you take your positive interrupter noise out on the street for a typical walk, you make want to start with that treat bag on hand, but have a variety of treats in it. Some cheese, some meat, some kibble, some baked treats, and anything else you would like to toss in there. Some of these will be high value, some very low value. Randomly on your walk, make the noise and stop. If he turns to look at you, give him a reward and continue walking. If he doesn’t, you can turn to walk the other way and make the noise again. After making the noise, stop. Again wait for that eye contact. He should catch on to this game quickly! You can practice on leash in your yard or home as well.
Fade the food!
As he catches on to the game, you can start fading the food rewards more and more. Instead of treating him each time he looks at you after making the noise, tell him “Good boy!” and give him a scratch on the chin before walking on. Just like when practicing in the home with random and different rewards, do the same when on leash and walking! Keep him wondering what his reinforcer will be until he develop the reflex of looking at you when he hears your interrupter noise.
Your noise will become useful when your dog becomes distracted, pulls on leash, barks, or does anything he is not supposed to during your walks. In fact, this noise will also be useful at the dog park when play gets out of hand, when he begins to eat something he found on the side of the road, or decides he would rather chase a squirrel instead of heel. The noise brings a positive emotion automatically in your pooch, just in the way a can opener may automatically call your cat into the kitchen. Once you gain his attention, you can then give him the command for whatever it is you want him to do and it will be more successful than attempting to command him when he doesn’t even recognize your presence.
Be patient with your dog! Remember that this is a positive interrupter noise, and should always bring a positive reward to your dog, even when it becomes his reflex. If you go too long without providing a reward, that reflex will dull and you will once again need to charge the noise for him. Even interrupting rough play can be rewarded by letting the dog go back to play after he looks at you! Through repetition, a variety of rewards and practice, your dog will love to give you eye contact when he hears your sound!