While ‘touch” is my favorite cue, there are lots of other foundational cues that are at the heart of good dog training. One in particular is teaching your dog to offer you eye contact, in all types of situations. Many well bred dogs offer eye contact, especially Labradors and Golden Retrievers. These breeds were originally bred to work with their owner, paying attention to and taking directions from them, working closely together. Meanwhile Terriers, for example, were originally bred to be independent workers, sent out from their homes to the barns to ferret out rodents. Rescue dogs are often nervous to look people in the eye because in their world, avoiding eye contact keeps them alive.
One of the things I like best about eye contact is that it is so foundational to every thing else we do with our dogs. Teaching your dog that it’s a great thing to check in with you can be used to help your dog walk on a loose leash. When your dog is checking in with you, he’s not thinking about barking, pulling and lunging at other dogs on your walk. When your dog likes to check in with you, he’ll love to come back to you (come when called) because you’ve already made eye contact so extremely good for him.
There are several great ways to work on helping your pup be comfortable with eye contact. Here are two options:
- Toss a small treat for your dog. Let him go to it, chew it, then say his name, one time. When he turns to look at you, say “YES!” and toss another treat.
- Hold a treat in your hand, with your arm out to your side and your elbow at a right angle. Your dog will likely focus on the treat. Try not to cue him on this one. Let him do the thinking and then when his eyes move to meet your eyes, say “YES!” and treat.
- Watch carefully, make sure your pup is looking at your eyes.
- Watch – Mark with “YES!” – Treat
- Repeat this in 3-5 minute training sessions, several times a day, all over your house.
- Be patient. Your dog may learn slowly or quickly. That’s okay!
- Do not use your dog’s name repeatedly. Say it one time and refer to #4.
- After your dog masters this inside, slowly increase distractions with noise or people. Be sure to practice outside, on walks, everywhere you take your dog.