Hi! Last year my dog and I did obedience in 4-H. She's still young, she's about 1 and 6 months. She knows basic things like sit, stay, down, recall, and patterns. We did well at county coming in second in the beginner class. At state she broke both her stays and I had to call her twice on her recall and we didn't place. I am hoping to do better this year. I am having issues with her paying attention to me. She's a very high energy dog (Australian shepherd we were told, but in thinking maybe border collie). I know she has high potential if I could her her to pay attention. Also she likes to anticipate commands and does them without me asking her. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you!
Thanks for your question and good job on your training so far!
With my own dogs, I really like to teach them how to watch me and I like to add some tricks into their skills too. Once you get your dog to really be watching and interacting with you, you'll be able to start working more on proofing the obedience exercises. Remember the 3 D's of training. Distance, Distraction and Duration. Each of those are important steps to keeping your dog solid in performances.
How are you leaving your dog for the stays? Are you giving the command and stepping off with your right leg first? Are your arms folded across your body to show your dog closed body language? There are all kinds of things to help your dog know what you want and if you are consistent, your dog will benefit from that too. Are you leaving your arms down at your sides for recalls? That is a good open body language and should encourage your dog to come.
Let's start with getting your dog to really pay attention to what is going on and to be watching you consistently. The steps are below to get you started.
Attention is the foundation of your relationship and communication with your dog. From this point forward, you'll teach your dog that her name means “Look at me and make happy eye contact.” Starting now, your dog's name should never be used for any corrections or any form of punishment. When she is having a fun time, don't call her name to take her away from the fun. You are going to teach her to love it when you call her.
Lure With a Toy, Trace, Say Name, and Play. Five times a day, help your dog make eye contact by making/tracing a line between her face and yours with a toy. Do 3 to 5 repetitions per session, 3 to 5 sessions per day. No food is used in this particular exercise. Food will work fine, but you want your dog to be as excited about you as she is for a food treat. Once your dog is focusing on the toy, quickly bring the toy (and with it your dog’s attention) to a spot just below your chin. As soon as that eye-to-eye lock is made with your dog, even if it is just for an instant, say your dog’s name in a normal, but happy voice and give lots of praise and play games with the toy. Having fun when making eye contact for hearing her name is the beginning of a communication channel between you and the dog. It is an important step in future training. When your dog hears you say her name, it should mean, “pay attention, something great is about to happen!” Be sure something great does happen, throw the ball, give lots of pets, snap on the lead and go for a walk. GOAL: Success 5 out of 5 repetitions, 4 out of 5 sessions. A repetition is each time you practice a single behavior. A session is the time you set aside to work with your dog. (These should be short and sweet sessions, no sense in long training sessions, your dog will not benefit from those.)
No Lure, Say Dog’s Name, Reward. Do this in a distraction-free place so you and your dog have a good chance at success. Keep your hands still and your toy hidden. Say your dog’s name: “Bear!” If she makes eye contact, praise and make something wonderful happen. Making eye contact is your “on” switch. Get excited, praise lavishly. GOAL: Success at 5 out of 5 repetitions, 4 out of 5 sessions.
Distractions. Luring is okay here since distractions are hard. You’ll start phasing the lure out in the next step. Although you established eye contact and attention with toys and interaction, now it is okay to surprise your dog from time to time with his food dish. (If your girl is food motivated, she'll really love this part.)
Your Dog Chooses to Make Eye Contact. The dog has more responsibility to voluntarily check in with you. Similar to the exercise above, only now WAIT for your dog to choose to look at you. Don’t call her name; make her do the work now. Eye contact makes the fun begin. This might mean a wait of several seconds until your dog finally checks in. It’s always fun to wait and see just how long it takes to figure out what they need to do. This is a great cognitive exercise for your dog. When she makes the contact, give her HUGE amounts of praise and play. The dog learns that his decision to turn away from the distraction and look to you was worthwhile. If you are using a helper for distraction, your helper may need to withdraw the distraction to help your dog decide to look at you for fun. If no eye contact within 5 or 6 seconds, call her name and play or praise. Go back to Steps 2 and 3 to increase the basic skills.
Good luck and let me know how you are progressing.