December 18, 2023

How Do I Get My Dog To Pay Attention in New Places? 

Is your dog great when you are at home or in your backyard but as soon you are out and about it's like they have forgotten everything they have learned? Don't worry, you aren't the only one who feels that way! Some dogs, like some people, have a hard time focusing in new environments. We will guide your through a few exercises to practice with your dog and build their focus no matter where they are.

Dog with owner on a busy sidewalk

Some dogs are easygoing and respond anywhere they go. Other dogs can have a hard time paying attention in different environments. We might be able to identify specific distractions, such as kids at a park, ducks in a pond, or a passing dog, while other times, we can’t. 

Start a Foundation at Home 

If being away from home is a challenge, we need to focus on the quality of responses at home first. Any type of reward-based training games can be great. Here are a few of our favorites.

Teach your dog to refocus automatically.

In this activity, your dog will learn to look to you to earn a reward. This training game is the foundation for automatic focus. 

Stand still and wait for your dog to look to you. Resist the temptation to rattle the treats, say your dog’s name, or make noise. When they do look, toss a treat on the ground. The treat is a reward for looking to you, and it is prompting your dog to look away so that they have a chance to turn back again. Repeat this 10-20 times in a row. You can do multiple sessions a day and in different rooms of the house. We know we’re on the right track when your dog will eat the floor treat and immediately refocus on you again.

Go onto a bed.

In this activity, your dog will learn to get onto a dog bed - but you could also use a bench, rock, or stair when you are out and about. 


Encourage your dog onto the bed. Reward with multiple treats fed one at a time. Encourage them off (no treat) and repeat. We’re looking for your dog to immediately leap onto the bed in hopes of earning a reward.

Beginning walking

Even if walking on a loose leash is not crucial to you, it’s an excellent focus activity for many dogs. During this leash walking activity, your dog will learn to move with you while focused on you.

Take Your Skills On The Road

Once your dog is excellent at a few skills - try them away from home. Choose a quiet location, such as a pretty empty park, or out in your neighborhood at a more peaceful time of day. We don’t want to choose a location next to a party or a kids’ soccer game.

Try the most basic version of the activity, or even run through your initial training steps to re-train your dog in this environment. We want to make things as easy as possible because the environment is so tricky.

Gradually Move Outside

Another option is to warm up with training games in your house. Then, work near the door while indoors. After that’s going well, you can open the door but still train inside. Use a leash for safety. The next step will be to move a little closer to the doorway, just a step or two at a time. You can stand at the threshold and even just outside the door with your dog.

If your dog cannot respond, take a step or two back inside.

Increase the Quality of Your Rewards

Instead of using regular treats, try some warm, cooked chicken. The scent will help motivate and inspire many dogs to stay on task and engage with their families. Some dogs really like fish, while others might like tiny pieces of banana. Take note of what your dog likes best and how that might be used for training games.

Set Expectations

If you’re going to the dog park for your dog to play with friends or letting your dog run into a family member’s home, then it’s not a surprise if he has no interest in paying attention. He will not have a reason to look at you if the environment has always been more fun. Over time, your dog can learn that looking to you is how he gets permission to run with his friends or run to his favorite people. 

Prepare Your Dog

A lower-energy dog might need a nap before a training outing. A very energetic dog might benefit from extra exercise before you train away from home. Some dogs will be more motivated if they are hungry and you train at mealtime, while others will be too hungry to do a good job. Take notes on what is working for your dog and adjust the variables to help your dog be successful.

If you need additional ideas on how to help your dog, let us know, and we have virtual private coaching for you and your dog.