Eye-Contact (Focus) Training

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! 

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Rosie (Newfoundland) practicing eye contact with one of our trainers, Eva

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!

Click here for a step-by-step video tutorial on how to practice eye contact

Training Eye Contact:

  1. Take your rewards in one hand (make sure you make it clear to your dog exactly what wonderful things you have in that hand)
  2. 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
  3. 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…
  4. 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.

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Raffi remaining focused on trainer, Amy, instead of the treats in the outstretched hand

Key Points:

  • 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!
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Notice how all of the dogs, at all angles, are focusing on Eva (not her hand)

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.

If you have any questions regarding eye contact training, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via email or our social media pages (Facebook & Instagram) and we will happily help!

Let us know how you get on, but most importantly, have fun!

Natalie 🐾

Owner & Founder | K9 Development Centre

2 thoughts on “Eye-Contact (Focus) Training

  1. Really useful. I now use the eye contact distraction with Basil often – the only thing I don’t have success with is when he wants to chase the cat (every time he sees her!). In fact if you have any advice on how I can work on stopping that I am sure Pi the Pusscat would be really grateful – she misses my old dog terribly, but is understandably completely disinterested in being in the same space as Basil!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really pleased you found this helpful Victoria! I’m so delighted to hear you are practicing the eye contact exercises with Basil.

      In regards to Basil’s behaviour around Pi, management will be key throughout this type of training. This basically means doing everything you can to stop Basil from practicing the unwanted behaviour: chasing the cat. Prevention of this is important, since cat-chasing is a self-rewarding behaviour (i.e. the more Basil chases Pi, the more he wants to repeat it, because to him it is GREAT fun, albeit at poor Pi’s expense). The instant Basil starts to behave inappropriately toward Pi (or looks like he is about to), calmly lead or lure him away from the cat.

      When you have a moment to practice/work on it, try this (on lead to begin with):

      Reward Basil for any desired behaviours he does with Pi around. For example, as soon as Basil looks at (in a relaxed manner), calmly sniffs, chooses to look away from or moves away from the cat, praise him profusely and give him a treat. Repeat every time Basil acts how you want him to around the cat. Basil will soon learn that whenever he sees Pi, if he is calm, he will be rewarded.

      You are training Basil to perform a certain behaviour (looking away from the cat) upon seeing the cue (Pi). Just make sure the treats you are giving are more desirable for him than the fun game of chasing dear Pi! Once you’ve made progress with what you want Basil to do (ignore the cat) and you’ve reinforced that behaviour a number of times, you may then practice the same exercise off the lead.

      Training can be done with Pi too! At some point, you may need to help her association with Basil by feeding her tasty treats while she’s in his company. (During this exercise, make sure Basil can’t chase the cat). We would recommend modifying the environment so that Pi has a safety zone, a place that is inaccessible to Basil. Set up baby gates and provide lots of high perches for her, and always supervise Basil when the cat is around.

      Hope this helps! I’ll catch up with you on the progress when I next see you.

      Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

      Natalie
      K9 Development Centre

      Like

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