Games to play with puppy

Some Focus Games to Play With Puppy

Purpose:  To establish the very first step towards focus.
Once that is accomplished this exercise can be used as a diagnostic tool to determine whether your dog is ready to work in any situation.

In this exercise, you want to reinforce your dog as fast as you can with ten treats. Even though it sounds simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Start with a quiet setting; your dog; ten small soft treats and a clicker if you use one.

Feel free to use a verbal marker such as “yes” rather than a clicker if you’d prefer. You can sit or stand.

Start marking and treating your dog, no matter what they are doing. If they don’t look at you, that’s fine – if they take the treats. Your goal is to get rid of those ten treats as quickly as possible.

Once you have given all ten treats, give your dog a verbal release command like “okay” or “all done”.

You can then throw another treat for your dog to chase after it and eat it. If you dog comes straight back and appears eager, start the exercise all over again with another 10 treats. Release again after all ten treats are gone, you can repeat this up to three times.

Some trainers have questioned the use of the marker word as you are not training a specific behaviour, that is true all your dog should do is eat the treats until you stop offering them. The marker helps with classical conditioning, we are establishing emotional associations. We want our dog to develop a strong positive association between us and both the primary (food) and secondary (markers) reinforcers. That positive association creates natural focus.

When your dog is eagerly taking the treats in one location it is time to move to a slightly more challenging one. You will continue to use RFTs in every new setting because it helps establish focus connection.

Purpose: To draw your attention to the numerous focus opportunities that you miss in day-to-day interactions with your dog. Also, to help you determine what types of non-food reinforcers work best for your dog.

We are switching gear now, rather than inducing focus with delicious treats that we hand over for free, we want the dog to learn that reinforcement comes in many forms, pay attention as a result of their behaviour.

Your dog focuses on you numerous times throughout the day and most of these go unnoticed. Now it’s time to start paying attention to them. We don’t expect you to be constantly ready to reinforce with a clicker and treats. Instead, reinforce with whatever you have available.

It might be praise, petting, personal player, or a quick game with a toy. Use whatever is at hand.

Just be sure that you get the message across to your dog that you saw his focus and appreciate it.

This exercise will help develop mutual interaction and engagement based on reinforcers other than food. It will also encourage your dog, not you, to initiate focus. Your job is to capture it and respond in a positive manner.

Purpose: To show your dog that he can initiate positive interactions by looking at you.

 He has the power to start the process.

At this point, your dog should be starting to focus on you more often in the house. If you have been taking the Rapid Fire Treats game to a variety of environments, you should also see an increase in your dog’s focus on you in new places. Now you are going to introduce your dog to the idea that eye contact can start the game!

Take your dog to a simple environment and make sure he knows that you have delicious treats available. Don’t do anything just wait. Eventually your dog will look up at your face, hoping for a treat.

That starts the game off. Immediately reward and mark. Continue to mark and treat as long as your dog continues offering eye contact, up to five treats. After those five repetitions, throw a treat away from you, then wait for your dog to eat that treat and return. If he offers eye contact play again!

Repeat this game several times. Remember, we want this to be fast paced and worth your dogs while. It is always better to leave a game with your dog wanting more!

Purpose: To connect the offering of voluntary focus with the opportunity to train and earn reinforcers.

Start in a familiar, low distraction location and have five to ten treats ready.

Wait for your dog to offer focus as you did in Exercise 3, but this time, do not treat right away.

Instead ask for a simple and well known behaviour. Once the behaviour is performed, mark and treat.

Use a verbal release and a treat thrown away from the dog to tell the dog they have done with that repetition.

Wait for the dog to return and focus again, then repeat! You can ask for a variety of behaviours (but only one at a time for each repetition) as long as they are things your dog can perform without error. We want lots of success, so make this easy for your dog! If things are going well you can do up to 10 repetitions of each exercise in a row, then take a short break to let your dog relax or play.

Note that we are not reinforcing the focus directly. Instead, we are asking for a behaviour, which allows the dog to earn a reinforcer. This will teach our dogs the all-important connection between focus and work. It also teaches your dog that after a treat thrown, the way to re-engage with you is to return and offer more focus.

As explained in Exercise 3, it is vitally important that your dog initiates focus and not you.

Doing anything to get your dog’s attention negates the exercise.

This exercise is teaching your dog a fundamental lesson – focus is the gateway to work, and work leads to reinforcement.

Purpose: To add duration to you focus training sessions. Also, to establish teamwork and flow from one event to the next.

You’ve already combined well-known behaviours with focus work, one at a time in Exercise 5. If you haven’t done so already make sure your dog is capable of performing Exercise 5 well in a variety of locations before starting this exercise.

We will now add short work sessions to our training. You will not realise your dog with a treat throw after each successful behaviour; instead you will simply cue a new behaviour and keep right on going.

You will need four or five treats for each session. As soon as your dog focuses on you at the start of the session, give a cue, mark the behaviour and reinforce. Then give the next cue, mark the behaviour and reinforce. You will do a total of three to four cued behaviours, then end the session by turning your dog “off” using your release word and a treat throw.

Note: that you are not releasing between behaviours as you were in Exercise 5; you simply continue to another behaviour.

We want this to be a smooth flow from one thing to the next, so mentally prepare how you will proceed. It would be very helpful to practice his sequence without your dog a few times first.

The sequences is:

Dog offers focus/cue, behaviour, mark, treat/cue, behaviour, mark, treat/cue, behaviour, mark treat/cue, behaviour, mark, treat/ release.

Then wait for focus and begin again! You can repeat this sequence two or three times in a session as long as things are going well.

If you run into problems in this exercise, a treat thrown release and restart is always appropriate.

Purpose: This exercise will help your dog develop sustained focus and concentration without the need for prompts and lures.

 We will start asking more by increasing the amount of time our dog offers focus before we reinforce. In order to accomplish this, we will begin by reinforcing on a variable duration schedule, which is a fancy way of saying that we will give treats at unpredictable times.

Start in a familiar location and have ten treats available. Choose an amount of time that you think your dog can remain focused on you, if you aren’t sure, it’s better to underestimate than to overestimate. One second is plenty long! Wait for your dog to focus, once he does, silently count to one second. If they were successful, mark and reinforce.

Wait for focus and silently count to two seconds before marking and reinforcing. The wait for focus again and count to one. Mark and reinforce.

See how we varied it just a bit? The first one was short enough to be successful. The second one pushed the boundaries just a touch. The third one was easy again.

Continue stretching out the duration just a little bit at a time, while being careful to be random and unpredictable in your reinforcement.

Here’s an example: one second, two seconds, one second, three seconds, two seconds, one second, four seconds, two seconds.

If your dog is unable to remain focused between reinforcements, that tells you to drop down to an easier level or to change to an easier location.

Your goal is to get a nice solid five second s of focus duration. That means you may have some repetitions as high as seven or eight seconds and some as low as one or two seconds. Keep up the variability and don’t rush to this goal.


Take as long as your dog needs.


Because our focus exercises require eye contact, be careful not to unintentionally give a “hard stare”, this is quite common when people are concentrating, so consciously work to soften your eyes and your expression. Smile, and maybe even avert your gaze slightly.

Purpose: Combining focus with movement. This exercise also gives the dog the opportunity to make repeated decisions regarding offering focus within a training session.

Once you have established a short duration of focus with an average of five to seven seconds, you can add some movement. This is not formal heel work; you are simply moving around together. If you have trained or will be training formal left side heel work, you might want to practice more right side movement to help the dog recognise the difference. You can also move backwards away from your dog or back and forth from side to side.

This exercise is easiest if you can do it in an area where your dog can be off lead. If that is not possible, dropping the lead can be helpful, just be careful not to step on it or get your feet tangled up in it.

Start out by waiting for focus from your dog. Mark and reinforce the initial offered focus, then start moving from your dog. Do NOT say anything to your dog. If they move with you, immediately mark and reinforce.

Start moving away with purpose and speed. Again, don’t do anything to cause your dog to move with you, but reinforce when they do. Don’t expect too much at first, a single focused step is a good start. You simply want your dog working to stay engaged and moving with you.

As your dog starts to understand this exercise, you can make it an exciting game. Try to move quickly and erratically. Make surprising twists and turns and pace changes. Reinforce him for focusing and keeping up with you.

This exercise can be tricky to do alone. Often, your dog is focused but out of your line of vision (either off at an angle or behind you) making you miss lots of reinforcement opportunities. If you have a friend or training partner you trust, let them do the marking while you offer your dog the treat at your side and move away again.

A fun variation is to do a treat throw away from you, then start moving as your dog gets the treat. As soon as your dog finishes the treat and looks in your direction, mark that focus (even if your dog is at a distance), do another treat throw in a different direction, and start moving again. This will encourage your dog to add speed and enthusiasm to the exercise. It is also extremely helpful for dogs who get stuck and simply watch as you move, as if they are waiting for permission to move. This is particularly likely if you have done a lot of impulse control work and your dog needs a release to feel free to move.

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