This article is from the Training Your Dog FAQ, posted to rec.pets.dogs newsgroup. Maintained by Cindy Tittle Moore with numerous contributions by others.
An important aspect of obedience training is getting your dog's attention. Your dog will not perform as readily if he isn't paying attention to you. There are a number of things you can do to get his attention, and you should be sure to praise him for paying attention.
Attention goes both ways. In turn, YOU must pay close attention to your dog. Many dogs will stop being careful if they know you're not paying attention. If there's one piece of definitive advice about dog training this must be it.
Put your dog on a medium-to-short leash and tie him to your belt. Now, go about the house on your ordinary business. Do not pay attention to the dog. It will quickly learn to pay attention to you to determine when you are going to get up and walk around, or where you are going. This is an especially effective exercise with puppies and also lays a good foundation for learning to heel later. Start with short periods of time, say 15 minutes, and work up as your puppy gets older and more familiar with this exercise.
If you look up and catch your dog watching you (this is different from the staring contests mentioned above because the dog is not "staring" at you when he is watching you move around), praise him.
Food in your mouth, spitting it at your dog
An excellent exercise for teaching attention. It gets the dog to concentrate directly on your face, not your hands or pocket. Do this as a separate exercise, until your dog understands that he must watch your face. Also, DON'T let them pick up the food from the floor or ground. If you do, they will learn that they don't have to catch the treat. They can just wait and pick it up. And don't let them come back later to clean up.
Talk softly to your dog. He will have to pay more attention to you. This is especially effective when younger, and is a good habit to get into.
Attention as part of the exercise
Integrate attention into the exercises themselves. For example, heeling is not just keeping to your side in the proper manner, it's also *paying attention* while heeling. Demand this attention as part of the heeling exercise, and your dog's heeling ability should improve.