Clicker: Attention

Training Clickers

Q: Kimo ignored me for the first night of Puppy Socialization Class, what am I doing wrong?

A: OK, first off, you’re right on track. Wild man Kimo did exactly what he is supposed to in a SOCIALIZATION class. This is not advanced algebra, this is PUPPY SOCIALIZATION. If he were socialized, we wouldn’t require it. But no puppy is socialized enough until they are AT LEAST a year old.

Every Tuesday I haul 5 dogs to kennel club, most of them under 1y. Every Saturday I haul everyone under 1y to a local park — we have MANY. We may do no more than get out of the truck, walk around for 5 minutes, click treat for 5 minutes, and go home, but we GO. At the end of the year of classes and parks, I have puppies who LOVE TO TRAVEL, LOVE to do things, LOVE to meet people, LOVE to train. That doesn’t happen at home. You can not socialize at home. You can not socialize in a vacuum. If you want a happy, healthy, friendly adult, you have to WORK for it.

What Kimo did — NORMAL! He ignored you and played and farted around like a goof. I would be worried if he hadn’t!

You’re going to use a mountain of treats in the first year, don’t slack off on treats until they do 100 in a row perfectly, and then you can consider two-fers and three-fers. Yes, the treats fade, EVENTUALLY. Don’t be stingy, treats are cheap, and they give BOUNDLESS interest later on.

Attention is the easiest and first thing to train. I start at 3 DAYS OLD with early neurological stimulation that ends at 21 days, then rules of 7, Pfaffenberger’s New Knowledge of Dog Behavior, Clicker Litter. At 9 weeks, the puppies are sitting for attention and STARING at me because I am the great treat dispenser. Every single time they get fed or a treat I ask for eye contact, and now BaRoo (Kimo’s littermate) won’t STOP looking at me, she runs into walls because she’s maintaining eye contact AND getting jackpotted for every wall encounter.

So think of attention as first, last and always. If you don’t have attention, you have no chance to train — kids, dogs, husbands, the principal is the same <G> Kids learn at home long before they go out into schools. They learn in schools for a good chunk of their lives before we send them out into the world. Dogs are the same. You’re doing home stuff now, and just starting schooling. Schooling will last the first year, and then you’ll have something you can confidently take out into public.


Have tiny morsels of treats, your clicker, and a quiet place. You learn to drive in the driveway, NOT on the interstate, we will teach attention in the living room, then in the backyard, then in the front yard, then in the parking lot of the dog food store, then inside the dog food store, then in an outdoor public setting.

5 morsels, make them as small as possible, it’s a game to see how tiny a treat you can give and he still thinks he’s getting something. They want a TASTE not a BITE.

Stand there with the leash over your right wrist (it prevent the dog from leaving, it is NOT steering), your clicker in your right hand with treats in your left hand. Then and LOAD THE CLICKER, you’ll give 5 click/treats for nothing. He doesn’t have to do a thing. If you click and he’s not even looking at you, put the treat on his nose and offer it to him. He’ll get faster, you’ll get faster.

Once you have loaded the clicker, you are going to reward a GLANCE of eye contact. His eyes may just flick TOWARDS you, that’s enough, click/treat. As he starts to understand you will have laser guided eye contact. But in the beginning, reward him THINKING about eye contact.

The clicker shapes the behavior you desire in tiny steps. If you want to put a halter on a wild horse, you CAN rope the horse, wrestle him to the ground and put the halter on. he won’t have learned anything positive about you or the halter and you’ll have to wrestle him to the ground from now on. OR…. you can hang the halter next to the feed bucket for a while so it becomes a non-scary thing. You can hold the halter while you stand in the paddock, then stand closer to the feed bucket every day, then hold the feed bucket AND THE HALTER, then touch the halter to his neck while he eats, then run his neck with the halter, then rub his face with the halter, then hold an apple so he has to push his nose against the halter to get the apple, then hold the apple so he has to put his nose THROUGH the halter to get the apple, and then he’s wearing it. TAKES TIME. But with a WILD animal you can’t rush things. When they accept the halter, you have a horse who is confident, not afraid, and will learn to LOVE HIS HALTER because only good things happen around it.

Our puppies are not WILD animals, but they are not SOCIALIZED or TRAINED yet either.

For attention, pick the quiet spot, have treats in hand, click/treat for any little thing towards your goal. Before very long, if you persist, the dog will be STARING at you because for some silly reason when he does this, you give him treats. Silly Human, Treats Are for Puppies!

So you click/treat 5 times as fast as you can because he’s staring at you. Then 10 times as fast as you can. Then 15 times as fast as you can.

Then you say, OK, good boy, and turn 90 degrees away from him. he should lean around and try to look at your face. If not, you lean around and look at his face. Or go back to 45 degrees away. You’re trying to give him an easy task, but it is asking for his participation here. Not just sit and stare, but work just a tiny bit to get that treat, and it’s a TINY bit of work at this stage.

You’re trying to encourage/help him to get off his butt and move around so he can see your face. If he can’t handle 90 degrees, do 45 degrees. If he handles 90 degrees, try 180 degrees. It’s just a turn so he has to think about getting his treat.

Try this game for a while — STATIONARY ATTENTION, and see how much better he gets at it. You’ll have to start being imaginative and turning to the left and right, turning and keep turning — but ONLY AFTER HE GETS IT.

Sidney Helen Sachs

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