Attention is the New Currency

We've all seen the person in class or on the street asking their dog to sit as their dog is pulling in the opposite direction. Maybe you've even been this person. Does the dog sit? No, the dog isn't paying any attention to the person on the opposite end of the leash. A quick fix is to walk your hands up the leash (as if you were climbing a rope) and before you know it, you're standing right next to your dog's head. Now you have a better chance of getting your dog's attention before asking him to sit.

Before you ask your dog to do anything, ask yourself if you have your dog’s attention. Much like with partners and children, attention is a valuable commodity. When your partner, child, or dog is busy doing something, your request is often cancelled out by whatever else has their attention. Instead of competing for your dog's attention, teach him that offering attention to you is the path to rewards and privileges.

Think about what you want your dog doing before you ask him to do something. You want attention! Reward that attention by doing something the dog wants: putting the leash on, going through a door, starting a walk, sniffing grass, greeting people, getting into and out of the car, putting the food bowl down, and asking for even more behaviors.

Asking your dog to sit, and rewarding him for sitting is Operant Conditioning (BF Skinner). However, Pavlovian conditioning is also in play. Since the reward comes right after sitting (much like the meat powder after Pavlov’s bell), the act of sitting itself can cause a conditioned response such as friendly tail wagging. Therefore, sitting on cue eventually becomes its own reward! Over time, giving your dog the opportunity to perform a behavior becomes a reward unto itself!

Start teaching your dog that all good things start with offering attention. This will get you closer to creating a wonderful partnership with your dog.  Attention is the new currency worth investing in. Need more guidance on the path to reinforcement? Give us your attention!