Building Canine Focus: Teaching Your Dog to Ignore People

July 29, 2023

In the realm of dog training, one hurdle that frequently challenges our furry friends is their tendency to get easily distracted by other people. Training your dog to ignore these distractions can prove invaluable when you’re out and about. Whether you participate in competitions with your dog or want a well-behaved companion, teaching your dog to ignore people is an essential skill to cultivate.


Find a Helper to Teach Your Dog to Ignore People


To kickstart this training process, enlist the help of a second person. This individual should hold a container with a low-value treat, but it’s crucial that they completely ignore your dog and avoid making eye contact. Stand near your helper with your dog on a leash, adjusting the distance between your dog and the helper based on the difficulty of distraction your dog experiences in the presence of others.


Now, take a moment to observe your dog quietly. Whenever your dog looks away from the person causing the distraction, regardless of where their gaze lands, use a marker word like “yes” and promptly reward them. It’s important to note that, at this stage, you’re not rewarding your dog for making eye contact; you’re rewarding them for diverting their attention away from the distraction.


An essential aspect of this training is encouraging your dog to look away from the distraction proactively. Rather than coaxing or enticing them to look away, give your dog the freedom to choose where to look and reward them for the correct choice. Therefore, it’s crucial to refrain from using lures or any form of manipulation to direct your dog’s gaze away. Instead, remain quiet and still, patiently waiting for your dog to naturally look away from the distraction. Be prepared to mark and reward the moment the dog looks away.



In the accompanying video, I demonstrate the “two-cookie game” as a training tool. For more detailed information on this technique, please refer to the following blog post:


What is the Two-Cookie Game and How Can It Help You?


If you want to learn more about the two-cookie game and teach your dog to ignore people and other distractions, check out this online class that starts on August 1st, Beyond the Backyard: Distraction Training for Competition and Real Life!



If your dog struggles with this exercise, you can simplify it by having your helper stand without any treats. Again, ensure that your helper refrains from making eye contact with your dog. Once your dog consistently looks away from the helper within a few seconds, you can progress to the next step.


Eye Contact


Now, you can start waiting for your dog to make eye contact with you voluntarily. Your dog may have already grasped this concept, but if not, establishing eye contact becomes the new criterion. If your dog finds it challenging, I recommend checking out this blog post for valuable tips:


Pay Attention! Teaching Your Dog Eye Contact



Generalize Concept of Ignoring People


Next, involve a different helper in the training process. The more people you can include in these exercises, the better. Eventually, your dog will comprehend that it doesn’t matter who the person is; redirecting their attention to you is the key to earning the reward.


So what if your dog won’t look away?


If your dog maintains unwavering focus on the distraction for an extended period, commend their exceptional attention skills! However, remember that your dog will eventually divert their gaze, and all you need is patience.


Here are a few techniques to ease the training process if your dog is struggling:


  • Increase the distance between you and the helper.
  • Have the helper stand nearby without any treats.
  • Opt for lower-value treats during the training.
  • Enhance the value of your rewards.


Ensure that you maintain a high rate of reinforcement and keep your training sessions brief. Many dogs find this exercise challenging, so exercise patience and only raise your criteria when your dog is ready. By teaching your dog to ignore other people, you will have a canine companion who prioritizes looking at you over other distractions in any environment. This skill will make it significantly easier for your outings in public, be it a leisurely walk or a dog show.

Does the thought of teaching heeling seem overwhelming?

If teaching heeling is on your to-do list and you want a simple solid plan, this class is for you!  We’ll start on the bowl and cover everything from getting off the bowl to moving forward, executing turns, pace changes, and more!

We’ll also go over some fun games to keep heeling fresh and fun!

Join me to get off the bowl and moving forward!

Registration opens on May 22nd.  The 6-week class will start on June 1st!


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