Eye contact teaches your dog to focus attention on you and check in with you regularly. When you teach your dog to look you in the eye, you’re making you more interesting than his environment and are therefore more easily able to control his behaviour, especially when leash walking or when other animals are around.
Eye contact: how it helps
A strong Look on cue is useful:
• to call your dog to you in a dog park or daycare
• to redirect your dog’s attention away from triggers (such as other animals or noise)
• to help with loose leash walking
• to teach your dog good things happen by looking at you
• to use as a fun alternative to ‘leave it’
• to strengthen the bond with your dog
Eye contact: how to encourage it
- Choose a marker. This is a word or clicker that signals to your dog they have behaved appropriately. This marker word could be a word like, Yes! Teach your dog that the marker means good things are coming by using the marker and immediately following with a treat for several repetitions.
- Begin in a quiet room. Sit quietly in a chair, with tasty treats ready to reinforce your dog.
As your dog looks at you, mark with a clicker or say Yes! and give a treat. Repeat several times. If your dog does not make direct eye contact, reinforce first for looking in your direction, then at your body, then your face, then your eyes. Some dogs may feel excessively uncomfortable with direct eye contact, looking at you in general is an acceptable alternative.
- Choose a cue word to name this behaviour for your dog, such as Look, or Watch.
- Once your dog is making eye contact routinely, add your cue as soon as your dog looks at you. Test your cue after several repetitions: say the cue and when your dog looks at you, mark, and reward. Repeat until reliable.
Once your dog learns the cue, you can start to add some distance between you and your dog. Step a few feet away and cue the behaviour. Gradually increase your distance.
To lengthen the time your dog makes eye contact with you, gradually increase the time between marks. Randomly increase the time between marks, one second, two seconds, back to one second, then three seconds, so your dog doesn’t learn a pattern.
Adding Indoor Distractions
Start with low level distractions, to keep your dog from getting too excited to pay attention.
Practice inside your house, cue a Look every so often as you go about your daily routine.
At mealtime, cue this behaviour before putting a meal down. Cue this behaviour before opening the door.
Adding Outdoor Distractions
Add higher level distractions by asking for eye contact on your daily walks or on car rides. Practice in busier outdoor environments.
Make It Fun
Eye contact should be a fun activity for your dog. With practice, your dog will look to you for guidance, no matter the surroundings. They learn to focus less on the world around them.