FOCUS – Prerequisite to Heeling and All Other Exercises – Andrew Ansenberger


The sequence of the FOCUS exercise can be summarized as: 1) Have dog on left side in heeling position; 2)  Have treats on your right side and no treat in your left hand.;  3) Say READY; 4) As soon as your dog looks at you, you give him/her the MARKER word or mark the moment in time with a clicker; 5) Give dog the treat with your left hand that was passed to it from your right hand. 


·         1) Start with dog on your left side in heel position.  Dog can either be in a sit or a stand.

·         2) Have your treats on your right side in a fanny pack or pocket.  Never hold treat in left hand near the dog.  No luring with food at this time.

·         3) Say READY.  Teach the word READY.  Every time the dog hears it, it will mean he/she will get a MARKER and a treat reward.  Before every exercise in an obedience or rally trial, the judge will ask the handler, “Are you READY?”  If you answer, “READY” and the dog is trained to look at you whenever he or she hears it, you have a good way to get your dog’s attention before the next command is given.

·         4) When your dog looks at you, say the MARKER word or clicker to mark that moment in time.

·         Create a MARKER word.  Some folks use a clicker. I use the word: GOOD.  Others use the words YES or YEP.  All work. Whatever marker you choose, use it consistently. This MARKER is used to tell the dog that he/she is doing something good and will receive a treat for the deed.  Always treat after a marker word is given.

·         5) With the right hand, pickup a treat in pass it to the left hand to treat your dog.

·         Focus training can start almost at any age in the dog’s life.  Puppies and beginners can start as soon as they learn the “STAY” command.

·         Exercise is introduced with NO LEAD; At home with no distractions.

·         NO NEGATIVE CORRECTIONS OF ANY KIND are ever given in this exercise.  No scolding. No neck corrections. If you are having a bad day, don’t train.  Focus can’t be forced.


·         As time goes by, increase time the dog is focusing on you from an instant all the way to 10 to 15 seconds.  This will take many sessions of training and shouldn’t be rushed.

·         Train every day, one to three sessions per day, no more than one minute per session.

·         NEVER give Multiple commands.  If the dog does not focus after a READY command, do not reward with a marker or treat.  Break out from the exercise and start again.

·         The act of FOCUS takes place when the dog is giving the handler his/her undivided attention and the handler is giving the dog his/her attention in return.

·         In the beginning, It may take a minute or so after the READY command is given before the dog gives the handler a millisecond of FOCUS.  As soon as this takes place the act is marked and rewarded.  Handler must stay FOCUS on his/her dog while waiting for the dog to give that eye contact.

Once a 10 to 15 seconds of FOCUS is obtained, then the dog can begin heeling, one step at a time with a marker and treat.  Don’t worry about the sit after stopping until the dog is proficient at heeling.  The sit can be added later.  The dog is rewarded for staying in FOCUS during heeling and not the sit until a future time.  Heeling should never ever go farther then what would take place in a trial.

FOCUS and HEELING should be mastered at home or in a secure location with no other distractions.  It then it should proceed to a class with other dogs and finally to fun matches before the dog is shown in a trial.  You can never get enough fun matches to perfect FOCUS and HEELING.


Here is a Youtube that introduces FOCUS and HEELING:  This link is available directly from our “brag book” that can be accessed at


Andrew Ansenberger