Capturing Attention using a Positive Interrupter…

Capturing Attention: 

Without attention you have nothing… How to build attention and interest. How to maintain interest with distractions.

Attention:  How do you get your dogs attention when he/she off sniffing a bush or doing something that you really wish he were not doing?  How about using a positive interrupter to get your dog’s attention instead of saying “NO”, “EEEhh EEEhh”, “Knock it off”, or jerking him away from the thing that is so interesting to him.

  • If you use the word “No”, jerk him, or yell his name, it is not telling the dog what to do, it is only suppressing the behavior.  Using these words or actions will cause the dog to associate you with punishment and your dog will be less likely to want to work and interact with you.  Your dog will also not learn what you DO what him to do, so he might go through his entire list of annoying dog behaviors before he thinks of the behavior you had hoped him to do from the beginning.
  • Instead using physical or psychological intimidation to stop your dog from doing an undesirable behavior, use a positive interrupter.  Why would you want to use a positive interrupter?  Well, it teaches the dog what you want them to do, to stop what they are doing and look at you, as well as building your dogs desire to do what you want him to do.

How to train the positive interrupter:

  • Make the noise that you want the animal to respond to such as a kissy noise or whistle and then feed a treat. Make the noise, pause for a second and then give a treat.  Repeat this until the animal is expectant of a treat after the noise.  You could use a word, but a noise that you can make that always sounds the same works best.
  • Next make the noise while the dog is looking away from you and as he turns to look at you (for the treat) mark that behavior with either a click (using a clicker) or by saying “yes”.  Once you have repeated this step you can then add distractions.  Have the dog on a leash so he cannot reach the distraction, (perhaps a low value piece of food on the ground) make the attention noise, and click or say “yes” and then feed a treat if the dog turns towards you after hearing the noise. If the dog does not turn towards you, do not click or say “yes”.  However, the dog should not be allowed to reach the distraction that he is interested in.  You can take a step backwards from the distraction to make it easier so the dog can succeed.  You can condition this attention noise to muscle memory in the same way a driver responds to a green light traffic signal (green light means go!).  Once you have created many different scenarios where your dog can disengage in what he is interested in to come towards you and look at you, you can start using the sound to interrupt behaviors that you find undesirable.

Keep in mind that if you ignore the dog and only pay attention to him when he is doing undesirable behavior, you will be training him to do the things you do not want by providing your attention whenever the behavior occurs.  So the GOAL is to reward the dogs alternate responses in conjunction with interrupting and preventing the undesirable behaviors.

Example: If your dog steals your underwear and runs around the house with them to get your attention, you have got to reinforce your dog with your attention when he is calm and doing NOTHING.  When your dog is lying at your feet quietly, that is when you will reinforce him with MORE attention than when he runs off with your underwear.