By Laura Sharkey
WOOFS! number one priority in our basic class is something we call Voluntary Attention (VA). Simply put, voluntary attention is the ability of the dog to pay attention to it's handler in a distracting environment without the owner using the leash or constantly cueing to the dog to look at them. The idea is that we make it so reinforcing for the dog to pay attention to the owner that they do so voluntarily and with duration.
This underpins our training philosophy which is that the dog does not HAVE to do anything you ask. A well trained dog WANTS to do what you ask because there is a history of reinforcement behind the behavior. I don't ever want to force a dog to listen or make them feel like they don't have an option. Every dog I train has the option to do what I ask or not. It is my job as the trainer to get them to WANT to do it. We start with voluntary attention because if the dog doesn't even want to pay attention to it's handler how on earth are you ever going to get it to do anything else? You can't train a dog that won't work with you.