Clicks for Eye Contact   Leave a comment

One basic trick your dog can learn is not really a trick at all, but a behavior that can change your entire relationship with your dog.

That trick? Eye contact.

One of the most common complaints I hear is that a dog just doesn’t pay attention to his owners.

But why would he? Think about how much your dog ignores you (and other human voices and behaviors) every day, at your desire. He ignores you talking to your spouse, your kids, on the phone, to yourself. He ignores the TV and radio. He ignores the heating system, kitchen sink running, dishwasher, washer/dryer, shower. He ignores you walking around the house, preparing food, helping the kids with homework, doing housework. And we want him to ignore all these things, because if he were to pay attention and go on alert every time one occurred, we would never get a break from reassuring him all was well!

But then, in the tiny percentage of time that you want your dog’s attention, you expect him to know that, this time, this voice, this sound, this word, is directed at him. Maybe you call his name. But how many times do our dogs hear their names throughout the day? Maybe you talk to them as you get ready, but don’t expect a response. Maybe you’re telling a spouse about their antics. Maybe you’re explaining to a friend that you have to feed the dog. Or maybe you are saying his name to him, but it’s to tell him to stop doing something, or ignore something, or that he’s doing wrong. With all of those mixed messages, how can your dog know that this time, when you call his name, you want his attention?

Then take your dog outside, into a world of distractions, and you and your voice, which he has learned to ignore through long exposure, are the last thing on his mind.

To many, this seems like a helpless prospect. But it’s not.

One simple step you can take to improve your bond with your dog and help him stay attuned to you is to teach him that looking at you is rewarding.

Not when you call. Not when you get down to his level. Not when you jerk on the leash.

All the time. Any time. When nothing’s going on. When a squirrel runs by. When a new person approaches. When he’s out on a walk. Teach him that voluntarily checking in with you is a rewarding behavior!

This is really very simple. Carry your clicker (or have a vocal reward marker, like “Yes!,” to tell the dog when he does the right thing) and treats. And sometimes, start clicking for eye contact. Don’t make a sound. Don’t give a hint. Don’t try to pull his nose up to you with a treat. Just stand there (or sit there, or lie there), and wait. And when your dog looks your way, preferably when she makes eye contact, click and give a treat.

You can do this randomly throughout the day, but it helps to occaisionally have sessions of just rewarding a dog for eye contact, over and over. Many people notice that when they teach their dog to sit, their dog starts coming up to them and sitting all the time! The dog has learned that sitting is rewarding, and now will offer it on her own to see if it pays off. The same can happen with eye contact if you teach that it is a rewarding behavior by having sessions of clicking and treating it.

Start, like with any trick, in a non-distracting environment. Maybe your living room, where nothing that exciting goes on. Get your dog, go in the room, and wait. When she looks at you, click and treat. It’s that simple! As she gets better at it, and starts to stare at you, take a treat in your hand and hold it off to the side. Now your dog has to stop staring at the treat and look at you to get rewarded. It’s an easy-to-introduce distraction. Try changing other things. Turn sideways. Change position between sitting, standing, kneeling, or whatever else you can think of. Vary the distance between you and your dog. Once they’re a champ in your living room, try other locations. Remember, start easy. Go in your yard and practice before you head to the dog park and expect your dog to stare lovingly into your eyes!

As your dog gets the idea, you can stop the training sessions if you want, but keep randomly rewarding eye contact. This will give you a dog who is far more likely to check-in on his own, even when on a walk or at a park, because he knows that looking to you is rewarding. It also helps to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, because he has learned to stay aware of where you are and look to you for guidance. Obviously, there will always be times we want our dogs ignoring us. But if they learn to offer eye contact on their own, they learn that while they may ignore many of your actions and words, they shouldn’t ignore you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: