8 Reasons Why Your German Shepherd Ignores You When You Ask for Focus

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You think you've nailed it! And suddenly your GSD stops paying attention to you altogether.

I know how it goes, you've spent many hours over multiple training sessions.

Your GSD is progressing beautifully, listening attentively and offering you their focus.

And then…

BAM!

Suddenly you're a doorstop in your Shepherd's eyes! You feel ignored and you don't know why this is happening.

Well my Shepherd-lovin' friend, this is a common problem I see as a professional dog trainer.

The mistakes that cause it are ones I've made myself.

And so today, I'm going to share the 7 reasons why your German Shepherd is ignoring you.

I'm also going to give you the lowdown on how I fixed this and how you can too.

But first…

Why it's Vital That Your GSD Wants to Pay Attention to You

In a nutshell, if your dog doesn't pay attention to you, it's almost impossible to train them or even cue already trained behaviors.

Think about a time in the past when you were trying to converse with your child, partner, or your best friend…

You say something and all you hear is… Silence. You repeat yourself and all you hear back is “hmpf!”

And when you turn to see if they're actually paying attention, you find them distractedly scrolling through their phone.

Sound familiar?

I thought so!

And although your dog doesn't own a smartphone or have opposing thumbs, the environment can be a huge distraction for your dog.

Now let's dive into 7 reasons why your GSD ignores you when you ask for focus…

#1 If Your Dog's “Focus” is Lackluster it's Because You're Approaching it like Fishing

Your Focus Training is Boring

My favorite part of fishing is sitting in the shade, sipping on something cold – like a craft beer.

I find the act, the ritual, the process of fishing rather boring.

I believe my husband when he tells me there's actually an art to it.

But all I see is a ritual of lure, hook, and pray for a bite.

Then it's a waiting game…

I mean, there are a bunch of fisherman “serenity prayers” all over the internet. Just Google it!

But I digress…

What does this have to do with your dog's focus?

Well, MOST dog guardians use the same lure, hook, and pray ritual to teach their dogs to “focus.”

It's something I've been guilty of in the past too!

It goes something like this…

  1. Lure your dog's gaze to meet yours with a piece of food.
  2. Hook the “meeting” with a word or a cue.
  3. Pray (as you hand your dog the piece of food) that with enough time they will “bite” onto the behavior.

Sounds a lot like fishing to me!

And I promise you, your dog finds this kind of training just as boring as I find fishing.

The bottom line is…

If you're smart about your training, lures, hooks, and the “serenity prayers” that underpin them will be a distant memory.

Instead, they will be replaced with cool-headed, fast-paced learning that's totally un-boring.

#2 Your Dog's Focus is Hit-n-Miss Because Your Technique is like Driving with a GPS

Your Luer Training is like Driving with a GPS

In October 2021, I had over 100 conversations with dog guardians about their dog's ability to focus.

And I've noticed a trap so easy to fall into.

One that should be side-stepped if you want to teach your dog a reliable “focus” behavior.

Why does this even matter?

I'll dive into that in a bit because it does matter.

But first…

A question and a story for context…

Do you remember how we used to get around to new places before GPS?

If you started driving before 1999, you might remember how we got by without GPS prompts to direct us.

If you got your driver's license after the advent of global GPS, hang tight because I'm about to tell you a story…

It was a Sunday over two decades ago, and I was at the airport waiting to board my first international flight with a massive hangover in tow.

I was about to start my “gap year” (which turned into three gap years), and I was super excited!

And the previous 24 hours are a blur to this day, which I think is still standard practice for a “going-away” party! No?

The party was on a friend's parents' farm, something like a 2-hour drive from the city.

And I had to go the road alone with no GPS to guide me, and I'd never been to their farm before.

And here's how it went…

  1. Call up my friend on Friday morning with a pen and paper ready.
  2. Jot down the directions and landmarks from my parent's home to the farm.
  3. Repeat the directions back to my friend for confirmation, thank her, and then hung up.

A couple of hours later, I jumped in the car and hit the road.

Along the way, I paid attention to every highway shield, route marker, and landmark to ensure I was following the directions.

And a little over 2 hours later, I reached my destination, and as I mentioned, the rest is a blur!

And I know right now you're wondering…

“What does following directions off a piece of paper have to do with teaching my dog a reliable focus behavior?”

Well, nowadays, I don't go anywhere without my GPS prompts to guide me.

It's great for avoiding congestion and reducing travel time, so why wouldn't I?

But it's not great for learning…

And it got me thinking last week as I was driving to a client's house for our weekly dog training appointment…

Me: Gosh, I can't believe I still don't know all the turns to my client's house months later.
Also me: Well, duh – that GPS prompts you all the way, so you don't have to think or pay attention.
Me: Oh yes, I remember I tried once, took a wrong turn, and got lost.

You see, the GPS is a big fat lure that I follow from A to B!

I'm not learning the roads by following the signs or landmarks to reach my destination.

There's no real thinking or engaging my brain.

I'm not connecting the relationship between turns, offramps, and signposts.

There's zero increase in my knowledge of the route or the area.

And it's the same way for your dog when you use a lure to try and teach them to focus on you.

Here's the reality…

The food you use to lure their gaze towards yours is just that, a big fat GPS lure!

Your dog is not learning; they are just following the piece of food like I follow my GPS.

And if you take that piece of food out of the equation – they get lost just like I did.

And the result is…

  • Their focus becomes a hit-n-miss.
  • They ignore you at crucial times.
  • They quickly lose focus in favor of the environment.

There's one more thing that happens when you teach focus with a lure…

And that's coming up next…

But before that, here are a few questions to ponder…

  1. How much would you love it if you could ditch the lure and take your dog on the journey to learning this vital skill?
  2. How much do you think it will improve the connection you have with your dog?
  3. How far do you think you could both take this skill if you knew exactly how to teach it – in a fun and un-boring way.

#3 Ignoring Your Dog's Sales Genius can Harm Your Focus Training

Your GSD is Ignoring You Because of WIIFM

Yes, your dog is a sales genius!

And if you want to harness that genius, you need to get really good at sales.

How do I know this?

Well asking dog guardians about their dog's ability to focus on them is a great conversation starter!

And in just over 100 conversations…

I've spotted a few pitfalls.

Today I want to dive into the sales genius of your dog and how ignoring it might be harming your focus training.

But first here's another question for you…

How does a top-level sales executive convince the person across the table from them to say “yes?”

Well if they're smart…

They get the “yes” by answering the other person's most important question.

“What's in it for me?” Or in sales terms, WIIFM.

It's what motivates people to say “yes!”

The funny thing is, most people don't even know it's a question that needs answering.

But your dog, on the other hand…

Your dog is fully invested in YOUR answer to that question.

And it's vital when it comes to focus training because:

  • Focus is the foundation of all other training.
  • Focus from your dog in distracting environments can be a lifesaver.

If your dog doesn't like your answer to their WIIFM question, they won't say “yes” to what you're asking.

Instead…

  • They'll check out of your training.
  • They'll ignore you around distractions.

And if you've read this far, you already know that luring with food is not a good enough answer for “focus” buy-in from your dog.

Because…

  • How do you lure with if you don't have any food around?
  • What if your dog decides the food you DO have is not good enough?
  • What happens if your dog is 40 feet away from you?

Luring with food only limits your dog's motivation in the long run and makes you reliant on what's in your treat pouch.

This brings me to the next reason your dog is ignoring you. And it's all about leveraging value.

But before we dive into that…

Are you enjoying this post on the challenges of teaching your dog laser-sharp focus without luring?

Keep reading because I've got something special lined up that will help you overcome these challenges!

#4 Your Dog is Ignoring You Because They are not a “Disney Dog!”

Your GSD is Not a Disney Dog

There's a Kool-aid induced myth amongst dog guardians…

And you might have sipped the Kool-aid too!

It's a two-fold myth…

  • Dogs are people pleasers.
  • They should do behaviors because they love pleasing us.

In dog training circles we call this a “Disney Dog.”

After chatting to one hundred dog guardians about their focus training challenges last year…

It's clear there are a lot of “Disney Dogs” not living up to expectations!

The previous section teased the idea of leveraging value in your focus training.

And I'm going to get to that in a bit because it's really important.

But first, I'm going to dispel that “Disney Dog” myth.

While we know that dogs are attuned to human emotions…

A “Disney Dog” only exists on movie screens.

  1. Your dog does not exist to make you happy by their behaviors.
  2. Their behaviors are not motivated by your feelings.

The bottom line is your dog is not a people pleaser!

Because here's the reality…

Dogs do what's reinforcing.

And just like you and me, dogs care about and do what makes THEM happy.

I know it might sound harsh. I mean I'm bursting the “Disney Dog” bubble.

But it's a vital concept. Especially if you want to leverage that value I teased about.

If you've been reading along, you already know what leveraging value in your focus training is NOT.

Here's what it is…

Taking the value of something your dog loves and moving that value into YOU.

It's really that simple!

The problem is most dog guardians use a food lure to train their dog to offer focus.

But this leaves the value with the food their dog loves.

And then the problems arise…

  • How do you lure if you don't have any food around?
  • What if your dog decides the food you DO have is not good enough?
  • What happens if your dog is 40 feet away from you?

But I'm all about solutions!

And there's an easy two-step solution to leverage and move the value of anything your dog loves to you…

  • Allow choice in your training sessions.
  • Balance fun and learning.

Think about it…

If you use a food lure…

Is there a choice for your dog?

Is there any learning happening?

Is the training fun?

The answer to each of those questions is a big fat NO.

And a big reason why so many dog guardians find it challenging to teach their dogs to focus on them. Especially in highly distracting environments.

For folks who already know their dog is not a Disney Dog, and are ready to jump in and learn how to teach a rock-solid default focus…

Click the big purple button below…

I want Fast Focus Foundations Now!

#5 You're Ruining Your Dog's Focus with the “Johnson Treatment”

The Johnson Effect is Ruining Your Focus Training

History has some fascinating stories to tell and lessons to teach.

I'm a “curious novice” student of history. An interest I inherited from my late father.

And today's lesson in dog training is brought to you by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

My American friends don't need any introduction to LBJ. But just in case you didn't know…

Sandwiched in between JFK and Nixon, LBJ was the 36th President of the United States. With a curious negotiation style dubbed “The Johnson Treatment.”

And if you're using The Johnson Treatment with your dog, today's post will make you think twice about it.

But first, some context…

Those 100 conversations with dog guardians I had in Q4 of 2021 were an exciting fact-gathering and data sorting mission.

I had daily conversations with dog guardians about their focus training challenges.

And one thing that has become crystal clear from owner feedback.

Most dog guardians expect an intense “eye-lock” when they ask their dog to focus on them.

And in human-to-human social communication, eye contact is acceptable and desirable.

But for your dog, eye contact is a double-edged sword…

Direct and extended eye contact between two dogs is usually not a good sign.

It's often a sign of conflict on the horizon.

In a dog-to-dog stare-down, there are two choices…

  • Meet the stare and face whatever comes next.
  • Avert the stare and offer calming signals.

There's a second way dogs use eye contact with humans.

I like to call it the Positive Love Loop.

But more on that in a bit.

Now back to LBJ and his Johnson Treatment…

People often didn't know what they were up against with LBJ. He NEVER took “no” for an answer.

When LBJ wanted something, a vote or a favor, he used something that became known as “The Johnson Treatment.”

Here's how it went…

  • LBJ would call a meeting.
  • He'd close the door.
  • And he'd get right up in his target's grill.
  • With a mix of pleading, flattery, and threats, he got what he wanted.

They say a picture paints a thousand words…

And so for effect, the image for this section shows LBJ's “Johnson Treatment” in action.

I don't know about you…

But the receiving end of The Johnson Treatment looks mighty uncomfortable.

But why is this important for you?

Because a lot of dogs feel that same discomfort.

Especially considering a few key points that stood out for me in conversations with dog owners over the past weeks.

One dog guardian said, “I snap my fingers in his face and say focus.”

While another one said, “I use a spray bottle with water to get my dog's focus.”

Those are not stare-downs by any means, but in a dog's world those are examples of “The Johnson Treatment.”

And so here are a few questions to ponder…

  1. What do you expect from your dog when they offer focus on you?
  2. Are you using the “Johnson Treatment” in some way?
  3. Is there a better way to gain natural focus from your dog?

If these questions are not easy to answer right now, hang tight…

Because at the end, I'll let you know how to get your hands on my Fast Focus Foundations guide. It's a three-page PDF and 15 minutes of video.

And it's for dog guardians who want to…

  • Learn 4 fun default focus games to play.
  • Build a desire in their dog to focus – with no “Johnson Treatment.”
  • Add choice in their training sessions.
  • Learn how to balance fun and learning.
  • Discover how to leverage the value of what their dog loves into THEM.

Ready to jump in now?

Click the big purple button below and get Fast Focus Foundations!

I Want Instant Access to Fast Focus Foundations!

#6 You're not Harnessing Your Dog's Secret Superpower for Focus Training Success

Ignoring Your Dogs Secret Superpower is Hampering Your Focus Training

Science says dogs are one of the most successful domesticated species on planet earth.

And it's because they have a secret superpower!

With zero human intervention, they went from wild roaming scavengers to napping on our sofas!

This is self-domestication in action.

It went something like this…

  1. They hung around villages eating trash humans discarded.
  2. The least skittish ones were most successful.
  3. Via natural selection, follow-up generations became tamer.

But how exactly did dogs achieve this “wild” success?

How did they become our best friends?

Well, your dog and every dog who came before has a secret superpower!

And science points to this superpower over and over again…

They call it a positive loop and it's all about the “cuddle hormone,” Oxytocin.

I like to call it a “Positive Love Loop.”

And here's how it works…

  • Your dog turns to gaze on your beautiful face.
  • You return their gaze with just as much adoration.
  • Oxytocin levels gush in your brain.
  • At this point your dog's brain also spikes with Oxytocin.

This exchange of eye-gazing holds a vital part of the puzzle in the human-dog relationship.

And here's what this loop does…

  • It deepens the human-dog bond.
  • Reminds both species of their unity.
  • It continues to advance our friendship.

And we experience the effects of this superpower many times a day.

For me, it's when I'm running late for training or playtimes when I can visibly see my dogs searching my face for that eye-gaze.

And I'll bet now that you know about this Positive Love Loop, you'll notice it more and more!

Here's the kicker though…

  • Tapping into the Positive Love Loop is a human thing.
  • Wolves don't do the eye contact thing with their handlers – they actively resist it.

Dogs figured out how to tap into the Positive Love Loop all by themselves!

And THAT my dog-loving friend, is the secret superpower that has made your dog so successful.

Your dog understands the power of eye-gazing with you.

But do you know how to harness that understanding?

If you've read this far, you already have some great tactics for focus training in your toolkit.

But there are a couple more reasons why your dog ignores your plea for focus…

#7 This Cliche is the Answer to Why your Dog Won't do What you “Want.”

 

This is Why Your Dog Says Don't Want to Don't Have to

Most people dislike cliches.

Google says it's because overuse of cliches “can show a lack of original thought.”

I think it's because cliches have lost their true meaning.

I like cliches – the good ones at least.

They come from a faraway place hundreds of years in the past and carry with them fundamental truths.

And I often get these kinds of questions in my emails and messages…

“What do you do to get your dog to listen and do what you want?”

The short answer is, you can't “get” or “make” your dog do anything.

This brings me to that cliche I teased about right at the beginning of this post…

You know the cliche as:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

But the original 1500s version is way better!

It goes like this…

A man may well bryng a horse to the water, but he can not make hym drynke without he will.

That very last bit, “without he will,” has been lost in time, unfortunately.

It's obvious without being obvious, but it's the answer to why your dog won't do what you “want.”

Your dog has free will to say, “don't want to, don't have to.”

So what can you do to encourage your dog to exercise their free will beneficially?

Well, if you're still reading you have a pretty good idea by now.

  • Acknowledge that your dog has free will.
  • Intentionally influence the training environment.
  • Start by making the right choice easy.
  • Make the right choice incredibly worthwhile.

My Fast Focus Foundations is a fun games-based approach will help you dial your dog's focus in on you.

By the end of Fast Focus Foundations, you will:

  • Have 4 fun games under your belt to teach your dog a default focus.
  • Know how to pick a worthwhile reward your dog will love to work for.
  • Understand how to leverage the value of rewards into YOU.
  • Learn how to nurture the power of choice in your training.
  • Discover how to incorporate fun to increase learning.

And I would love to see you take this opportunity to nail down the skills you need to teach your dog a beautiful default focus.

And if you still need more motivation to jump in, here's one more reason your dog is ignoring you when you ask for focus…

#8 Your Dog is a Reflection of the Education You've Given Them

Your Dog is a Reflection of The Education You've given Them

“It works 75% of the time.”

That was what one of a hundred dog guardians shared with me during a chat about their dog's ability to focus on them.

Here's how they achieved 75%…

“I say focus and point to my eyeballs and give lots of treats when they actually do it.”

It doesn't sound like highly effective education. Or the most efficient way to teach a beautiful focus behavior.

There's zero learning happening, we know because the success rate is only 75%, and it's reliant on pointing to their eyeballs.

And it reminds me of my all-time favorite cartoon…

I'm a die-hard Asterix and Obelix fan!

Out of all the Asterix and Obelix adventures, my best one is The Twelve Tasks.

I won't go too deep into the plot here and won't spoil the ending.

But do yourself a favor and watch it. Youtube has the whole adventure uploaded!

In the Twelve Tasks, the Roman Senate begins to suspect the Gauls are gods. Julius Cesar decides to set impossible tasks to prove they are nothing more than rebels.

Anyway, Asterix volunteers for the fifth task, where he must stare into the hypnotic gaze of Iris the Egyptian.

Iris attempts to hypnotize Asterix into believing he's a wild boar. And in the end…

Iris fails…

Instead, Asterix hypnotizes Iris to believe he's a wild boar!

Here's why…

  1. Asterix was not invested in the activity of being hypnotized.
  2. There were distractions everywhere.

And it's no different when you're working on focus with your dog.

  • You need to get your dog invested in the training, not the food.
  • Your sessions need to be short, fun, and high-energy.
  • Ideally, you want to start with low distractions and build up slowly.

That's if you want a beautiful focus from your dog!

My Fast Focus Foundations program is now open for enrollment.

Inside you'll get:

  • The exact process I use to dial in my dog for a beautiful default focus with 4 fun games.
  • Step-by-step demo videos where I work with my dog to show you how you can achieve the same results.
  • My best tips and methods for picking rewards your dog will work hard for.
  • A detailed PDF with my favorite training tips on leveraging value, allowing choice, and making learning fun.

Fast Focus Foundations will lay the groundwork for a beautiful default focus even in distracting environments.

Dive into my Fast Focus Foundations program and learn how to get a beautiful default focus from your GSD!

Hit the big purple button below for instant access!

I'm ready to teach my GSD a beautiful default focus behavior!

Here's What Other Students are Saying…

What Other Students are Saying 1 What Other Students are Saying 2

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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • Paul

    Hi,
    I want to contact you, but the page couldn’t open, maybe you could solve it soon.

    • Hi Paul,

      If you’re trying to contact me via email, the link should open up your favorite email platform.

      Alternatively, are you on Facebook? You can reach out to me there too.

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