Train Your Dog To Watch You

I love it when my dog checks in with me and makes eye contact. Can’t get enough. I consider “watch me” a core behavior and find that it is a handy behavior to have on cue as it can stop unwanted behavior. It is a way to redirect your dog’s attention. For example, imagine being in the backyard with your dog when he spots a squirrel. If you have a strong and reliable “watch me” then you can prevent him from chasing that squirrel who is busily taunting him.  It would be a very clever dog indeed who could chase a squirrel while looking into your eyes! You are in essence teaching them “look away” as well.

“I Can’t Help Myself. I Can’t See No One Else” – Dolly Parton

In an earlier post I spoke about capturing and shaping eye contact, or an “autowatch.” It is a great way to begin. Here is another game you can play too.

  • Have your dog sitting in front of you
  • Put 10 smelly, delectable treats in each hand
  • Make a fist with the treats enclosed
  • Present each hand to your dog, allowing him to sniff both hands
  • Fully extend your arms to the sides and raise them so that your fists are at the height of your eyes
  • Now wait patiently for your dog to figure out what the “trigger” is for treats.  The “trigger” will be making spontaneous eye contact, however briefly. Usually they will stare at one hand, wistfully, and then shift their gaze to the other hand. As they do so their eyes should cross over your eyes if you are holding your hands at the height of your eyes.  You have to be quick with this. Mark the moment he makes eye contact with a “yes” or a click followed with a treat from your fist. Some dogs become fixated on one hand so be sure to offer a treat from the other hand in that case.

Rinse and Repeat

The directions above will get the behavior started. After each treat let them smell both hands again and return you arms to eye height.

After he catches on and is reliably ignoring the treat in favor of looking at your eyes, you can add the cue “watch me” simultaneously with the behavior. You are naming the behavior as it occurs. This is an important step as you are making clear that the action of finding your eyes is called “watch me.”  Aim for ten repetitions. At this point you can start to use “watch me” as a cue. You can ask for the behavior rather than just naming the behavior as it is occurs.

Make It More Difficult

Is he catching on? Then make it a bit more difficult. There are many ways you can do this. Practice is important to strengthen this behavior.

  • Start to lower you fists, getting closer and closer to their muzzle. Can you get your fists on either side of their head and ask for and get a “watch me?”
  • After warming up with the process above, start to move around a bit. Try  getting  them on your left side and asking for it. Can you get behind them and ask for it?
  • Practice in different rooms
  • Practice in the backyard and the front
  • Try it in the park on “off” hours when the park is not too busy

Don’t Beg

It is your responsibility to ensure your dog’s success so choose your place and time carefully. Distractions should be added slowly and incrementally. It may be tempting to repeat your command. Don’t beg! You don’t want the cue to become “watch me watch me watch me.” And you don’t want him to practice ignoring you so choose carefully when and where to ask for “watch me.”

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3 Responses to “Train Your Dog To Watch You”

  1. Sage 25. Sep, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Mom plays that game when she feeds me. She says “leave it” and when I look at her, she says “take it”! And then I get to eat! Good game, huh?

  2. Ken Perry 26. Sep, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    Elizabeth – I like the training ideas you write about. It gives me something to focus on during my time with my dog! Keep em coming.

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