When myself and our other trainers attended the Startmark Academy for Professional Dog Trainers and Behavior Specialists, many of us had already "trained" dogs previously and were itching to get busy teaching all sorts of cool stuff like scent detection and agility and how to get our dogs to fetch drinks from the refrigerator. So, as you can imagine I was a little skeptical when the first thing they taught us to do with our dogs when they first assigned them to us was to play a game called "The Attention Game."
They wanted us to play the "The Attention Game" for several days with our dogs before we were even going to get started with teaching heeling or even sit! We were still going through a lot of the classroom slideshows and some administrative stuff, so part of me felt that this was just a bit of a filler to give us something to do with our dogs before we really started working with them. To this day, I regret having not taken that portion of the course more seriously. It ended up taking me much longer than it should have to realize how valuable your dog's attention can be while training.
All of our clients who opt for our private lessons program learn about "The Attention Game" during our first lesson. For their homework I always just have them continue doing the same game all week. Like myself, unfortunately I often feel that many clients feel this silly game is not a serious part of training, and may even feel embarrassed practicing in their home training space, like their driveway or their yard. But, its kinda like that saying "If I have three hours to chop down a tree, I'll spend two hours sharpening my axe." If you start with the attention game it can improve the overall quality of your training exponentially!
"The attentiveness you've instilled during the first week of training will do more than simplify the job of teaching the exercises detailed in the following [lessons]. This will make the learning and performance of those exercises more meaningful and dedicated than the senseless mechanics that are grooved by repetition or performed for a tid-bit while most of the dog's mind is far away.
Most important, we are laying the foundation for dependability and control during times of distraction, when it is most needed. Right? Or are you content to be one of those persons who stand red-faced in an aura of nervous perspiration, tangling your fingers in the collar of a dog who is 'really very smart, but gets so excited'? ~William Koehler
We still want our dogs to get excited, but we want our dogs to be excited about us and about training! I always tell our clients when you are playing the attention game, that you need to be the most exciting thing in the room! Not only that, but it helps to start in a really boring room! That way you can start to help your dog learn that paying attention to you is awesome!