Teaching your dog to ‘check in’ with you is one of the most simple, yet effective behaviours to train your dog to help with calm responses and to make sure your dog’s attention is kept on you (even in the most distracting situations!).
More importantly it is a fantastic way to teach your dog that awesome things happen just by looking at you! After enough repetitions, your dog won’t even have to think about providing eye-contact, it will simply become second nature to them.
Eye contact = access to everything they could ever want!
It is the equivalent of a child asking their parents for permission to do something. Instead of asking a question verbally, they are asking a question through the means of eye-contact.
Your end goal will be teaching your dog to look at you anytime they want something or are unsure on how to behave/handle a situation.
Eye-Contact should be one of the first things taught to a puppy/dog – it is an underrated cue! Once the behaviour has been practiced enough, your dog will soon learn that their food will be put on the floor, doors will be opened to the garden, balls will be thrown for fetch and you will continue to move forward when on a walk…just as soon as they look at you!
Training Eye Contact:
- Take your rewards in one hand (make sure you make it clear to your dog exactly what wonderful things you have in that hand)
- Raise your hand up and stretch it out beside you at about chest level – you want it to be high enough that your dog is unable to reach it but still easy to see
- Your dog is likely to stare at the hand with the reward in for a few seconds. Make sure you stand still and don’t give them any clues on what they have to do! It’s so important that your dog works this part out for themselves…
- The second your dog looks away from the outstretched hand and towards your face, mark with your word or clicker, and reward your dog by giving them a treat from your bag/pocket/other hand
Even if your dog doesn’t look directly at you at this stage, don’t worry! Even just your general direction is more than good enough.
- Be patient – Not all dogs will make an obvious or immediate look towards you. Watch carefully so you can capture the precise moment they do! It may just be a slight flick of their eyes at you, but mark this immediately and reward
- Switch Hands & Change It Up – Change the ‘difficulty’ level by adding movement (start twirling your hand in circles), then reward your dog for making eye contact with you as opposed to the distracting reward hand!
- Position Change – After changing up the location and difficulty, make sure you practice this with your dog at your heel too. You want them to learn that eye contact is the answer, no matter what position they’re in
- Duration – Once you have practiced receiving brief eye contact, try and add duration. If your dog can look away from the hand 8/10 times (or doesn’t bother to look in the first place) you are ready to delay your marker word for 1 second. After 5-10 repetitions, add more time as you practice!
Always keep training sessions short, fun and positive! End on a good note, make sure your dog is enjoying the training and always stop for a break and come back to it later on if you are unsure.
Let us know how you get on, but most importantly, have fun!
Owner & Founder | K9 Development Centre