Wanna know the secret to a well-behaved dog? It’s being able to get your dog to listen to you.
That’s why you are here, and that’s exactly what we are gonna help you accomplish! These 5 hacks will have your dog listening to you faster than you can say “look at me”! 😉
Keep in mind that these hacks are not 10-second fixes! If you are looking for “quick fixes” in dog training, you may want to rethink how you are approaching your relationship with your dog. Effective and lifelong learning for dogs takes patience (on your part), practice (for both human and dog), and consistency.
Every second invested in teaching your dog to listen to you is an investment in their safety. Not only that, but it’s also an investment for your peace of mind.
Quick Note on Exercise
One quick note on training your dog to listen to you is that almost all dogs, especially puppies, need ample exercise. Many dogs turn to problem behaviors (ignoring you can be considered a problem behavior) when they have too much pent-up energy.
So, give your dog age-appropriate exercise every day, and especially before training. A general rule is 5 minutes of exercise per month of age, twice a day. So a 3-month-old puppy can have 15 minutes of exercise, twice a day!
Let’s get to it, 5 hacks to get your dog to listen to you!
- Teach Your Dog “Look at Me”
- Never Use Your Dog’s Name in a Negative Way, Ever
- Use an Extremely High Value Treat When Training
- Exposure, Exposure, Exposure
- Use a Long Lead When Training Recall
- [bonus tip] Start Small and Control the Environment
Listening Hack #1: Teach Your Dog “Look at Me”
The ultimate way to get your pup to listen to you is to teach an effective “look at me”. You may have heard of this behavior referred to as focus, watch me, or another similar name, and each has the same effect.
The desired result of this behavior is teaching your dog to look you in the eyes when you ask. When their eyes are on you, they are ready to listen. Period.
Teaching look at me is simple in nature but can take months of consistent practice for a pup to internalize in a variety of situations. Let’s break down how to teach look at me. For a more in-depth learning of ‘look at me’, be sure to sign up for our 100% free 30 Day Perfect Pup online training class. Sign up here.
How to Teach Look at Me
Step 1: Use a high-value treat or other currency (like a ball or tug toy) to get your pup’s attention. If using treats, give them one or two treats to pique their interest.
Step 2: Take the treat and hold it up to your face, right between your eyes or near your nose. The instant your pup engages eye contact (even if it’s just with the treat), give a verbal “yes” or “good” and reward your pup with the treat.
Pro Tip: Give the treat from down near your waist, not straight from your eyes. Your pup should know that the treat itself doesn’t come from your eye area, just that the area is where they should look.
Step 3: Repeat this step multiple times. As your pup starts to understand the behavior, introduce the word “look at me” (it can be focus, watch me, or whatever you choose, just remember to stay consistent). Do this by raising the treat towards your eye area, and as soon as your pup looks at you give the verbal cue “look at me” followed by a “yes” or good”. Then reward with a treat.
Step 4: After enough practice, you can start incorporating a hand signal! I’ve personally found putting my pointer finger right between my eyes to be the best, but find what works for you! Do the hand signal, and as your pup looks at you give the verbal cue “look at me” and “yes” or “good. Then reward with a treat.
Step 5: The final step is to ask for the skill by saying “look at me”. If your pup makes eye contact with you, give an energetic “yes” or “good” and reward with a treat. If your pup doesn’t understand the cue word yet, then take a step back and work through steps 2-4 again.
An important tip is to keep your “training bubble” small, meaning stay close to your pup while first teaching this skill. That can mean sitting on the floor and getting closer to your pup! The closer you are, the easier it may be for your pup to give you their attention.
We’ll cover it more in-depth later in this article, but be sure to practice “look at me” in a wide variety of situations, environments, and distraction levels. Remember, start simple and work towards more difficult scenarios. Baby steps!
Listening Hack #2: Never Use Your Dog’s Name in a Negative Way, Ever!
Remember when you were a kid and your mom would yell your full name?
You immediately knew something was wrong or you were in trouble (typically the latter). That’s why to. this. day. most of us fear our middle names and hate hearing it… especially coming from our parents! 😉
The same goes for our pups!
If you constantly use your pup’s name when they are in trouble or did something wrong, you’ll likely create a negative connection for them between their name and bad behavior. The problem is, the next time you try to address them it’ll be that much more difficult to get their attention. Trouble!
Instead, only use their name for positive things and during training cue words. For example, “Buddy, come.” Once he comes to you, it’s all treats and praises! Not only will he be learning what “come” means, but he’ll be associating his name with positivity!
When needing to communicate that a behavior isn’t correct or desired, use “no” or “ah-ah” instead of their name!
Listening Hack #3: Use An Extremely High-Value Treat When Training
One truth in teaching your dog to listen, especially in early stages of training, is that you need to entice your pup with a very high-value treat. Your treat needs to be more valuable than pretty much any distraction out there!
Think about it… Is a piece of a carrot really going to be more valuable to your pup than the cat that just scooted by? Sorry but no!
Whenever working on formal training, and again, especially in the early stage of learning new behaviors/skills, you need to use a high-value treat. It’s recommended to not only find a high value treat your pup will love but also one that is healthy and low-calorie.
When training with treats you’ll likely be giving your pup many, many treats! If you’re giving them treats chalked full of calories and fat, you’ll have a tubby pup in no time.
One of the most popular, effective, and healthy high value treats out there is freeze dried beef liver. Freeze dried beef liver is great because dogs absolutely love the taste, it’s a simple and healthy ingredient, and it’s low calorie.
Want your pup to listen? Check out these freeze dried liver training treats now!
Listening Hack #4: Exposure, Exposure, Exposure
Did you know how to ride a bike the first time you sat down on one? No way.
So, can you really expect your pup to know how to behave in a situation they’ve had zero experience or practice with?
The pup parent of three in me says no. 100% no.
One of the most vital aspects of getting your dog to listen to you is to expose them to a wide variety of situations in which you want them to listen. Odds are you’re finding it difficult to get your pup to listen while you are out on walks, at a dog park, in a new environment, etc.! It’s not a coincidence…
If your biggest listening problem for your pup is when other dogs are nearby, it’s probably time for some dedicated training sessions in the presence of other dogs.
Exposing Your Pup to New Environments
For example, take your pup outside of a dog park (on a leash, of course). Start maybe 20-30 feet away from the fence of the park. Get your pup to perform a “look at me” (we covered it above, remember?), lay down, sit, etc. and maybe even a good “come when called” from a short distance.
As your pup nails those behaviors from that distance of 20-30 feet, move 5-10 feet closer and repeat.
Keep working this routine until you’re right next to the fence. Remember, that fence will probably have a handful of dogs right next to it! Don’t forget that every pup learns and progresses at a different pace. Stay patient and if the 20-30 foot distance from the fence takes a few training sessions to get down, that’s okay!
This type of “exposure” or what is often referred to as conditioning, is absolutely necessary for getting your dog to listen to you in all types of distractions and situations.
Listening Hack #5: Use a Long Lead When Training Recall
Sometimes it seems like when you need your pup to listen most, nothing works. Frustrating, right?
And that’s where leashes and long leads become your best friend in training. If your pup is connected to you via the leash, you have much more control over the situation and their attention!
Whenever you start with simple training in the home, keep your pup on a leash. It makes redirecting their attention back to you about 1,000,000 times easier.
Same is true when teaching recall or “come when called”. Odds are that this is one of the main reasons you want your pup to listen to you. That type of listening is crucial for your pup’s safety in so many situations.
When teaching recall, a long lead (typically 20-30 feet long) will be a game-changer. Imagine you are working on a longer recall, say from 15 to 20 feet away. You work through the same routine that worked at 5 feet away, but the second you call your pup a cat goes running across the street.
Their attention will likely turn away from you, and they may even try to chase that cat. But, if you have them on a long lead, it’s very easy to give a slight redirection back to you with the help of the lead. Of course, I’m not talking about yanking or pulling your dog towards, that’s not the point. Simply, it’s a tool to help get your pup’s brain back to you so you can refocus their listening and attention.
Long leads are a life-saver and training must-have. Get one as part of our popular Training Starter Pack here.
Bonus Listening Hack: Start Small And Control the Environment
Here’s a little bonus listening tip for you! Along the same lines as exposure, it’s extremely important to make sure you start small and keep control of your training environments. This will help you teach your pup to listen! (PS- we cover this topic in-depth in our free 30-day online training class, led by Zak George. Sign up here.)
Whenever you train a new behavior/skill it is your job to make sure you set your pup up for success. So if you’re trying to teach your pup “look at me”, start off in a very familiar, comfortable, and distraction-free environment. That could be your living room for example.
Practice that “look at me” just in your living room, until your pup has it down perfectly. Then and only then should you introduce a more difficult environment.
Back to our learning to ride a bike example. When you were first being taught, you probably had training wheels, right? Think of distraction-free, familiar training environments as your puppy’s “training wheels”.
Just like when you learned to ride a bike, you should keep your pup’s training wheels on for however long they need to internalize the behaviors and skills. Taking the training wheels off of a toddler’s bike too early will likely end with a crash, and the same goes for puppy “training wheels”.
Recap & Overview of How to Get Your Dog to Listen to You
Getting your dog to listen to you and pay attention is not an easy behavior to teach. It can take months of consistent practice and conditioning. Remember, start small and focus on incremental success. Your pup needs to learn to crawl before they walk, figuratively speaking.
Whenever you train your dog to focus, recall, or any behavior, it’s beyond important to use a high value treat! Something they will absolutely love, every single training session. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back on that too! Save 23% on our high value, healthy, and tasty beef liver training treats here.