You will probably have noticed that the nosey Hovawart gets distracted by other sights, sounds, and smells especially when training. Keeping or regaining his attention can sometimes be difficult, whatever kind of treat is offered.
The problem is not the quality of the treat, the reinforcement. The problem is that he has not learned to focus on you in distracting situations. Additionally, many of us are unaware of the movements we make, which could also have a negative effect when training a Hovawart. Think of focus as a learned behaviour, which must be taught; it is an important prerequisite to most training, so it is useful to find ways to strengthen your hovawart's focus and increase his attention span.
Attention Training sessions should only last a few minutes at a time; too long and your Hovawart will get bored and distracted! Use some tempting treats, later you can use a toy. Keep the treats out of the dog's sight and have him on the lead to begin with. Train initially in a quiet area free of other distractions. The consensus seems to be that exercises done standing still are not as effective as those done on the move.
Teach Hovawarts to look at you as a separate exercise to heeling, only putting the two together later when he is competent at both separate elements. Then clearly express what you want from your Hovawart and move with precision and without raising the volume of your voice, he should like being with you and willingly follow you.
Start with him in front of you reward and treat him each time he makes eye contact. Smile! Drop a treat on the ground so that he has to look away to get the treat. Wait for eye contact again, and then reward him as before. Repeat this 20 – 30 times, praising and smiling the whole time. You are teaching him that looking at you will always be rewarding. When he “can't take his eyes off you”, add a word of command, such as “watch”. Combine the behaviour with the word of command, and repeat the exercise as before. It is not necessary to do this all at once. Lots of short repetitions in varied locations will reinforce the behaviour, and be generous with the treats. Repeat this exercise daily in as many different places as possible.
“Heel” is a position, basically dog's neck is in line (parallel) with your left hip. When you are walking the dog should move to stay in position, and when you stand still the dog should sit or stand and maintain that position.
Do not follow your Hovawart, he should always follow you. Without even realizing it, most people tend to walk towards the left, following their dog, making it impossible to walk in a straight line. Similarly many people walk with their heads down, looking at and checking their dog.
I don't believe a Hovawart has to look at me when “heeling”, he knows where I am by using his peripheral vision to keep an eye on me. However, it can be advantageous in competitions to have your Hovie look at you.
Practise with your Hovawart in the "Heel" position and the lead loose or with the dog off the lead. If he is on the lead tuck the handle into your waist band for hands off training. Reward him at first for just being in the correct position and ignore anything else. Keep your left hand at your waist and give the treats with your left hand so that he stays in position. 20 repetitions per session is about right. Have a variety of treats; small bits of beef, shredded chicken or turkey, and if he likes fruit or vegetables then bits of apple, carrot, etc, and what about cheese?
Then begin to walk, rewarding him every time he is in correct position. Continually use treats as you train this behaviour. Take your time, reinforce and reward him as often as possible and don't use the word “heel” until he is reliably walking in the correct position. Lots of short training sessions of one or two minutes for this exercise are better than longer ones.
Just as with all training, establish the desired behaviour, then give it a name or word of command, and then practise it, everywhere.
This exercise was designed to be done on the move and teaches a dog to give his attention to you whenever you say his name; you can easily change the verbal cue for him to give you his attention to any word you choose.
The complete exercise consists of three repetitions of saying his name, moving away, praising him, taking out a treat and gaining eye contact and giving the treat to him, all on the move.
Standing near your dog say, "Dog's Name!" and then MOVE briskly away from him, perhaps just a meter or two, not a big distance. Move first in one direction, and then another, backwards, forwards and so on, mix it up. Simultaneously, say and/or signal "Heel". The important thing to say, is his name because this will become the verbal cue (marker or word) he will learn, in order for you to command and keep his attention.
When he moves with you, quickly PRAISE him "Good boy" in a happy excited tone of voice. Then instantly give him a treat. When you give a treat or toy line it up between his eyes and your own. You must get eye contact from him for that treat or toy. Keep walking the whole time.
Repeat the exercise a few times before you release the dog's attention; this is what teaches him to maintain his attention on you, until you release it. A release command is also be useful.
To help prevent the treat from becoming a part of the command, do not show the treat or toy until you are ready to give it, and always praise him verbally before you give the treat. This will aid you praising him at the right moment, and enable you later to delay giving the treat or toy.
Your hovawart should quickly develop the habit of looking at you whenever you say his name, and similarly for you to positively reinforce him every time he gives you his full attention. Whenever he seeks your eye contact always praise him, and positively reinforce that contact with a treat.
As soon as you feel that he understands the exercise, count slowly in your mind up to five, then to ten, aiming to get him to watch for a minute, and then give the treat. Make sure you keep walking while counting and tell him he is doing a good job by verbally praising/rewarding him. The verbal praise helps maintain continuity in the dog's mind between action and reward. Ultimately he will be able to complete an obedience routine or exercise before getting the treat or toy.
With all training, establish the desired behaviour, then give it a name or word of command, and then practise it, everywhere. The more you do these exercises, the longer he should be able to pay attention to you. You can use a toy, especially when he has grasped the concept, but don't be in a hurry to stop using food. It is the easiest thing to present him with, toys need to be played with, a small treat will help in establishing, structuring and maintaining his attention and the toy can be played with on completion of the exercise.
Hovawarts go through "phases", and during their adolescence they can become unsure or "afraid" of things and situations they previously were used to. Seemingly to have forgotten commands even though they have an excellent memory. Typically these phases occur between 7-12 months, and then again later between 18-24 months. At these times you must be kind, self-controlled, composed, sane and consistent all at the same time. In short, be a reliable and resolute person in whom they can put their trust and rely upon.
Take a look at play and playing games together. With a little imagination it is not hard to see how you can reliably train your Hovawart puppy. Consistency in training and management helps him learn more quickly, and ensures that you develop a good healthy loving bond.