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Sometimes, dogs can be stubborn. Whether it’s because Fido is easily distracted or is just bored, it can be difficult to get his attention in order to teach him the behaviors you’d like for him to learn. You know he’s smart. You know he can do it. If you could only get him to pay attention to you for just a few seconds in order to teach him!
German hepherds, though generally known for being great at obedience of any kind, can sometimes develop some bad habits. With highly intelligent dogs sometimes comes the capacity to be bored or more interested in something else entirely. German shepherds can also be capable of some pretty high prey drives. Try getting your dog’s attention when a peppy little squirrel darts by. It can sometimes be impossible! But there are a few tips and tricks to get your dog to be more interested in you and what you have to say rather than whatever interesting smell might be lingering in the dirt a few feet away.
Getting your German shepherd to listen to what you have to say doesn’t have to be so difficult. Being able to communicate effectively with your dog is the number one way to practice proper obedience. Remember that dogs don’t always understand the methods of communication that humans tend to use. Using his name over and over with no response will often just teach him to tune you out. Your dog prefers to use body language to communicate or prefers to respond when there is a reward to be had. This is where positive reinforcement comes in.
Teaching your dog to listen can begin at any age, young or old. Stubborn or not, German shepherds are intelligent and willing to work with the right motivation. Grabbing his focus reliably can take as little as one day, but can take up to maybe three for a particularly disinterested pup. His rate of improvement will depend heavily on what you offer in exchange for his attention.
You’ll want to begin by determining what motivates your dog. Most of the time, it’s treats. But it can also be toys or other rewards. Make sure these rewards are high in value, meaning that your dog only receives them on “special occasions”. Good treats to use are bits of real chicken or other dog-safe meats, cheese, peanut butter (without xylitol), frozen beef or chicken broth, or any type of human food that is safe for your dog to eat. Be sure to double check and research that the snack is healthy for your pup!
Once you’ve gotten together some fun and tasty rewards, then you can get your dog into an area free of distractions. The less distracted he is at the beginning of your training, the more likely he’ll be able to listen to you later on when there are more things that may try to grab his attention.
The Focus Method
Use a treat
Pick a treat that is high in value. Feel free to rotate them out occasionally to keep the rewards fresh and new.
Hold the treat up
Hold the treat where your German shepherd can see it. Keep close to him if necessary to let it grab his attention.
Use your dog’s name
Say your dog’s name once and only once. A repeated use of his name will only get him to start ignoring you.
Use a verbal command
Use a phrase like ‘look at me’ or ‘focus’ as soon as you have your dog’s attention. This command will later be used to get his attention at any time.
Offer the treat as soon as your dog looks at you. It should be an immediate reward, not a second too late.
Repeat this a few times a day, but only if you have a treat in hand. Over time, you can begin to wean your dog off of the treat, but stay consistent at the beginning. He should get used to being rewarded when he offers you his attention.
The Timing Method
Catch the behavior
Keep an eye on what your dog is doing. Do not acknowledge her until she turns to look at you for any reason.
Have a reward ready
Have your reward in hand whenever you are training. This method is all about catching your German shepherd at the exact moment when her focus is on you.
Use a command when you see the behavior
Use a verbal command to mark the behavior, which you will begin to call it later.
Reward right away
Let her take the reward immediately after the verbal command. This will teach her to routinely look back to you whenever the words are said.
Practice being quick
Catching when your dog is looking as you is sometimes like catching lightning in a bottle. Be quick to mark the behavior with your verbal command and reward. Do this regularly and getting her attention should become easier over time.
The Play Method
Use a toy
An interesting toy is best for this method. Something that is colorful, smells interesting, or has a squeaker can all be good traits for a toy that can grab your dog’s attention.
Your German shepherd is much more likely to pay attention to you if you’re energetic and all over the place. Jump up and down, make some high pitched noises, and get your dog excited.
Dogs like to chase. Running in the opposite direction can convince yours to go after you with enthusiasm, especially if you have the toy in hand.
Reward for response
Reward your dog with the toy when he catches up to you. Have some play time and continue the upbeat energy. The play time with the toy is the reward for wanting to be around you and focusing on where you are.
Your German shepherd will only form a habit of paying attention to you if you are consistent in your rewards. Never forego the play time with the toy if your dog isn’t reliable enough to do so. This will often cause a step backwards.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 03/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021