By AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Christie Canfield
Getting your dog to do what you want requires you get his attention first. More than just his name, a specific command for a specific behavior will increase the likelihood that your dog will respond to you. Just as “sit” means put your rump on the floor; “look” or “watch” means give me eye contact. Essentially, you are saying, “Look at me so I can tell you what to do next.”
Interestingly, not only does this basic behavior help you get your dog’s attention when distracted, eye contact also triggers a release of oxytocin and serotonin in both you and your dog. Oxytocin is the hormone for attachment and love. Serotonin is long thought to be a contributor to feelings of happiness and well-being.
Here are some steps for teaching your dog to give you eye contact:
- Teaching Attention: Show your dog a treat, and slowly move it toward your forehead or by your eye. Call your dog’s name and ask him to look at you. If you use a clicker, click, or just say “yes” or “good” as soon as your dog gives you eye contact and give him the treat. Gradually fade the food to use a hand signal and a verbal command to ask your dog to look at you. You will eventually want your dog to look at you on a verbal command only, since when you need to get his attention, more than likely he is not looking at you.
- Hold your hand out to one side: Begin with your dog in front of you in a sit, down, or stand. Hold a treat in one hand and extend it out to your side. Ask your dog to look at you, not the treat. As soon as he looks away from the treat and to your face, click or say “yes” and give your dog the treat you are holding. Alternate hands and hand positions.
- Throw & Look: For this game, you will need to start with your dog beside you, holding him by the collar or harness. Toss a treat or toy a short distance away, then ask your dog to look at you. You may need a hand signal and always use a happy tone of voice. Once your dog gives you eye contact, click or say “yes” and allow your dog to get the reward. If you are using a toy, play with your dog and use his toy as the reward.
For more training tips and to ask questions about your dog’s behavior and training program, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week training service staffed by experience dog trainers: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.
The Five Commands Every Dog Should Know
Do you want a well behaved dog but don’t know where to begin? The Basic five commands e-book is a great place to start and will give your dog a strong foundation for future training.