Primary Blog/Training Tips/7 Seconds - Proper Dog Training Requires Our Attention

7 Seconds - Proper Dog Training Requires Our Attention

Thursday, March 28, 2024

7 Seconds - Proper Dog Training Requires Our Attention

Recently, I was advised by an Emmy award-winning news reporter that I have 7 seconds to capture my audience with my blogs, articles, Facebook live events, radio shows, and so forth, or otherwise, they’re gone. Only the week before that, I was warned by a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert that prospective clients spend, on average, a mere 7 seconds on a website’s page before they bounce (that’s SEO slang for they’re gone). To make matters worse, a month previous, I was informed by a clinical psychologist that the average attention span of most people is approximately 7 seconds. All of which means, by now, there’s an excellent chance I’m writing this blog for myself.

Nevertheless, after mulling this over for 7 seconds, I became curious as to what I could accomplish with any of our 4 dogs Captain (Blue Heeler), Tikaani (Siberian Husky), Dave (Morkie), and Po (Morkie) in 7 seconds. Would I accomplish anything meaningful, or nothing at all? Would I be able to capture their attention, or would they all bounce? Would their attention span prove to be shorter or greater than mine? So much to find out, but so little time - 7 seconds to be exact - so, if you’re still here, let me tell you what I found out before you too are gone, and I forget what I’m doing.

I was able to accomplish the following 7 tasks in the allotted time of 7 seconds each:

Filled 3 out of 4 dog bowls with food. Sorry, Captain - the vet said you needed to lose 7 pounds anyway.

Scratched 14 ears (divide that by 2, and you have 7...coincidence?) I would have made it to 16, but Dave attacked Tikaani when Tikaani tried to butt Dave out, and it took me an extra second to break up the fight.

Got Captain and Dave to lie down on command. Po refused, and Tikaani spent way more than 7 seconds asking if we had ever been over that command before.

Had all 4 dogs sit on command and hold their positions until I said: “free!” I had to bribe a couple of them with cheese, but so what if I tell you that. You’re probably already gone.

Got 4 out of 4 dogs to come when called. Actually, it was 3 out of 4, but Dave got ambushed on the way by Frank, our Siamese cat, and he freaked out for 8 seconds causing him to lose focus on what he was supposed to be doing. Consequently, I counted it.

Picked up 1 out of 4 piles of crap and I’m good with that.

Plucked 2 tufts of fur from Captain’s butt. I would have gotten more, but Captain is very particular about his tail, so I spent 5 seconds dodging his teeth.

After the results came in, I thought to myself, not too shabby. Then, because I was on a roll and the subject had captured my full attention, I spent 7 more seconds contemplating what I would not have been able to accomplish with our dogs in that amount of time. The list was staggering in comparison to what I was able to get done. Subsequently, in my attempt to narrow the list, I solicited the help of 7 other dog owners by asking them what they thought they would not be able to accomplish with their dog(s) in 7 seconds and here’s how they responded. By the way, I only gave them 7 seconds to answer.

Teach their dog not to go potty in their house.

Stop their dog from jumping on them and their guests.

Train their dog to COME to them when called.

Get their dog to stop pulling them when they go for a walk.

Have their dog understand that “quiet” means to stop barking.

Train their dog to remain where it is when given the command STAY or PLACE.

Evoke an immediate and consistent response of dropping whatever is in its mouth by their dog when given the command, “OUT!”

I must admit while listening to their replies I started to panic. By the 7th answer, my palms began sweating, and my heartbeat jumped by a full 7 beats per minute which made my breathing suddenly increase 7 fold. I was in a dire state, and I knew I had to focus all of my attention on remaining calm - and I only had 7 seconds in which to do it - or my time could expire. Sound bad? It was. After all, the list of things these owners would not be able to train their dogs to do before their 7-second attention spans were likely to be diverted to something else are extremely important. Achieving even half of the list would immeasurably increase the chances of them and their dogs living happier lives together. And, with 1 year in a human’s life equaling 7 years for a dog (another coincidence?), it’s crucial for the dog’s sake that the list gets knocked out as soon as possible. Hence, my panic!

So, what do we do about it? According to Kesava Mandiga, the author of The simple truth about technology and human attention spans…, we can’t do much other than work at improving our focus and attention spans because the human brain was designed for multi-tasking and information gathering. In his article, Kesava goes on to explain, “the human brain was designed to maximize our chances of survival in the wild. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for information — relevant, irrelevant and everything in between. Short attention spans are normal.”

Eric Barker, in his article, This Is How To Increase Your Attention Span: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience, furthers Kesava’s point with his admonishment for blaming technology for our 7-second mental unfitness. “First off, stop blaming technology. It’s not your phone’s fault; it’s your brain’s fault. Tech just makes it worse. Our brains are designed to always be seeking new information. In fact, the same system in your grey matter that keeps you on the lookout for food and water actually rewards you for discovering novel information.”

Hmm...perhaps the overload of information that is dumped on us daily is just now catching up to the speed of our naturally fast, 7 second brains? If that’s the case, maybe we should accept our evolutionary fate and speed up everything else - to include dog training - in order to compensate for our ability to carry on a conversation while checking our email and replying to a text and shopping for a robot vacuum and telling Alexa to start the oven, all at the same time. Makes sense to me. Imagine this - but do it quickly - we could morph dog training into 7-second bursts of laser-focused theory and technique with treats being given to the dog every single burst to capture the dog’s attention continually. All bases covered. However, we would need to keep in mind that retrieving the treat from the treat bag, followed by the subsequent ingestion of the treat by the dog could exceed the 7 seconds allotted for that particular burst. As a consequence, the dog could quickly become disinterested in our new micro-training sessions and bounce. Not good.

Well then, perhaps we should go back to muddling with canine genetics and create dogs that can pick up on whatever we’re teaching in 7 seconds or less. That way, our 7-second attention spans will be perfectly aligned with their 7-second learning spans, and as a result, every problem that arises with our dog’s behavior will be very short-lived. Brilliant! Second thought, scratch that. I’ll give you 7 seconds to figure out why.

Again, what do we do?

The more I think about it, the more questions I start asking myself. Questions like, what’s on Netflix? Argh! My bad. Concentrate Bryan. More like, what’s to become of dog ownership in the next 7 years if we can’t maintain our focus on something as important as training our dogs for at least 7 seconds? Will we find a way to increase our attention spans to meet the timing requirements that good training demands, or will we rely on the internet to come to our rescue by providing answers to our questions 7 seconds faster than our nimble fingers can press the return button? Even if the internet does rescue us, will we be able to apply what we’ve learned quickly enough to capture our dog’s attention and bring forth the motivation it needs to learn before we become too distracted? So many questions and not enough time to answer them all, but definitely enough time to become concerned. Think Bryan, think, but not for too long.

After pondering the problem - multiple times while writing this blog - I realize the solution has been right in front of me the entire time; it just took me several spans of attention to pull it together. What we need to do is instead of speeding up our dog’s training, we need to do the opposite by hitting the pause button long enough to allow us to spend whatever time we can to observe our dogs’ behavior in a natural setting. In time, whether it be through 7 second intervals or longer, we will learn what captures their attention and keeps it, and what doesn’t. We will also come to know what behaviors they learn easily and quickly compared to those that are difficult and takes longer for them to master. By understanding both of these traits, our training sessions will become more streamlined and impactful, regardless of the amount of time that is afforded them.

We will also learn from our observations that dogs aren’t held to our 7 second time limit when it comes to focusing on what they want or need. For instance, if 7 seconds slip by and I still haven’t thrown the ball for my dog, Captain, his brain won’t suddenly tune me out and redirect his neural pathways so that the ball takes on the image of a bag of food. To the contrary, his hyper-focus on the ball will increase with time until I can’t take it anymore and throw the ball so he’ll quit staring at me! The canine brain, like ours, was also designed “to be on the lookout for information - relevant, irrelevant, and everything in between.” It’s just that they haven’t lost the ability to stay on point for greater than 7 seconds like us. Therefore, we need to “will” ourselves to pay more attention to our dog's training or we need to want a well-behaved dog as badly as Captain wants a ball?

​Lastly, but most importantly, if we pause for a moment and casually observe our dogs, we’ll learn that time, in general, doesn’t mean squat to them. A dog will divvy up a 24 hour day into more 7 second time segments than you can shake a stick at in 7 seconds. And, then, he will devote as many of those segments as necessary to live with you as harmoniously as he possibly can. Perhaps, if we humans were a bit more like dogs, we’d find a way to spend a few 7-second segments of our day focusing on how we can do the same.

Bryan Bailey

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Bryan Bailey

CBCC-KA Certified

Bryan Bailey, an acclaimed author, media personality, and expert in canine behavior and training, co-founded Taming the Wild and brings his diverse experience and innovative methods to his role as a mentor and director at The Academy for Canine Behavior and Training.

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