How To Teach Dogs Focus and Self-Control

Working on Dog Behaviour Issues with An Expert

I started fostering Kilo the Pug 9 months ago.  He was very cute and healthy, but he was not perfect. He arrived with a few dog behaviour issues.

I have spent at least 30 minutes a day training Kilo nearly every day and I take him out to go potty and walk every 2 hours. I have had the good fortune to have had sessions with top behaviourists and trainers, as well as tips from experts in person and online. He now does much of what I ask around the house, loves his crate, rarely has a potty accident and knows quite a few tricks.  However, I am embarrassed to say that we have not made much progress on basic obedience and our little prince can be a little pushy. He can also still be rather reactive and anxious with certain triggers – for example the mailman or the neighbour’s dog passing can send him into a total spin.

Kilo the Pug in the garden

Positive Dog Training Tips from Renee DeVilliers  of All About Dogs

Yesterday I was able to take Kilo to get some Positive Dog Training Tips from ReneeDeVilliers  of All About Dogs. (Renee was featured in our documentary series). I love Renee’s calm, gentle, firm manner. Plus I wanted to hang out at her beautiful new facilities in the west end of Toronto. I had planned to let Kilo have a private agility class in the indoor Arena.

In the first 5 minutes waiting in reception, Kilo got stressed, shouted at a few strangers and ignored my commands.  Renee convinced me that we’d better wait until next time to do agility and review a few basics first.

Failing Basic Obedience With Kilo the Pug

I have always been a teacher’s pet, but it turns out that I got a failing grade on teaching Focus, Self-Control, a Good Recall and Basic Obedience. I have not been helping Kilo as much as I could. Not for lack of good intentions or hard work or good advice, I just needed an objective expert update on my methods. A fresh eye you trust can be so valuable.

Kilo is a 2-year-old rescue, a small loving little lap dog with a very cute face.  He is food motivated (make that obsessed) and he also enjoys affection/attention from people he knows and playing with toys. It is very hard to resist his begging or his demands for affection and attention. It is easy to feel that if I give him enough love and positive socialisation, he will get over his anxieties, he won’t guard resources and he’ll be “good”. If I redirect him from behaviours I don’t like, or ignore them, eventually he will get the message. If I reward the good behaviours, he’ll repeat them. Most of this is absolutely true and much of what I was doing was great. I just need to make some adjustments in timing and add in a few missing elements or changes.

What’s wrong with this Picture?

Kilo the Pug showing Focus and Self-Control

Kilo is doing an excellent “wait” for the delicious cookie in the photo. It does demonstrate some Self-Control. However, Renee pointed out that it is missing one thing, the eye contact with me, the Focus.

His obedience and control are not reliable, especially outside the house or under stress. I have been showing him food rewards upfront to bribe him and lure him into behaviours or letting him throw tricks and winning looks at me rather than asking him to focus on me, obey and earn everything he wants.  I made excuses on certain key things- “he’s not a working breed so he has trouble learning words and working at a distance”, “pugs can be stubborn”, “he had a bad experience”.

Luring is a great way to show a new behaviour or trick to a well-trained dog, but not that effective long-term with a food obsessed Pug. Kilo is far more likely to come if I say treat or shake his treat bag, than if I call his name. I need to build up his regular training and responses in general so that he does things for me and then is rewarded…not show him the goods and then he performs.

The Power of Yes

I use the word “yes” as a marker for the behaviour I want to reinforce, but I was showing a treat then saying  “yes” while rewarding with food rather than “yes” then quickly rewarding with a hidden treat.
I also need him to learn how to get my attention in a good way for example going and settling on his mat before going out for a pee or playing. Renee reminded me that if I don’t train him alternate responses, ignoring him jumping up at me or digging at my leg won’t help (Joan Weston had also given me some tips on that but I now see I had not been implementing fully).

Desensitisation to Triggers

I need to set him up for success. I had been working on desensitisation and making slow progress. We had done some work with the doorbell and with neighbours and friends on our street and even in the parking lot at a local Pet Store. However, I think some of my timing on the rewards was a bit off recently and Kilo was lacking a few fundamentals. By building up his regular training and focus, I should then be able to use this to get him into a mental state that is more receptive in order to then work on desensitisation to his triggers. We worked on getting him to sit and focus for 30 minutes before we then had Brittany, who works with Renee, walk past the window outside. He barked the first few times he saw her, but each time he was reinforced toward Renee’s body with a treat so he looked at her and ate. We combined that with no person = no reward until he started to look happily at Renee expecting a treat when he spotted Brittany. Distance was our friend.  We wanted him in his “head” so he could take in the training more clearly which hopefully should yield more sustainable results.
Renee demonstrates positive dog training tips  for focus and self-control with the help of her beautiful talented Australian Shepherd, Nishka and a very cute little puppy !



Renee trains all her dogs using positive reinforcement training, a gentle and humane approach to training that builds a healthy and trusting relationship with your dog.



“One of the key components to understanding the use of positive reinforcement training is understanding the psychology of the dog. Many people don’t understand why a puppy is growling when they are playing tug, they don’t understand why their dog is taking things and running away. So a lot of what I try to explain to people is what is the unique nature of their dog.  A lot of that can be based on their breed or mix of breed, what that dog was selected for like herding, guarding or hunting.”

By rewarding puppies and dogs when they show control and focus, they learn good things come from that.

Thanks Bullwrinkles and Barnsdale Farms,  DogforDog, and Wag More Bark Less for the samples of healthy and yummy treats perfect for training – much appreciated.

Does your dog have any issues? Do you have any good tips?

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  • Kilo is such a cutie! I hope that he comes round for you. It sounds like you are doing an excellent job of working with him. No one is perfect. We all need help and guidance sometimes. It’s cool that Renee could help you out!

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Thanks Robin. He is so cute and loving. I have even seen an improvement in 2 days with just a few small changes on my part. Have a great week XS

  • We really need to work on Charlie’s “drop it” command. He LOVES to play fetch but doesn’t quite grasp letting go when he returns!

    Nishka’s focus on Renee is so impressive. Motivates me to spend a bit more time training over the summer!

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Renee has worked so hard with Nishka. You should have seen the improvement in Kilo in 2 hours with her. We practised today and worth the effort.

  • Awesome training tips! Well done on the self control Kilo!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  • I’m always working on at least ten different things with Mr. N it seems! Focus and impulse control are big ones for him too.

  • Hello Talent Hounds! Thanks for this article! Now I’m most definitely gonna try this my chihuahua. >:D (don’t worry I love him to bits)