August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Teaching your dog to make eye contact with you is a great foundation behavior. If your dog is making eye contact and paying attention to you they are less likely to pull on leash, bark at people or dogs, or sniff and eat things off the ground.

The Basics:

  • Have 20-50 yummy pea-size treats as rewards. A high value toy also could work.
  • Use a reward marker, like a clicker or the word "Yes," a treat and praise.
  • Practice 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes in a low-distraction environment, like around the house/backyard or on a quiet walk.

Name Recognition

If you have a dog that ignores their name when you call them or doesn't seem to know it, you will need to retrain them on their name.

Name Game

  • Say your dog's name when you are 2-6 feet away from them. When they turn their head, say "Yes," and praise and reward them.
  • Your dog does not have to 'come', 'sit,' or do any other cue. They're rewarded when they turn their head and eyes toward you. If your dog moves towards you to get the treat it's an added benefit, but you can also throw treats towards them if needed.
  • Continue to add distance between you and your dog until your dog will look at you from 40-50 ft. away when they hear their name.
  • Remember calling their name is not a command - it's an attention getter, after they look at you; you need to give them the next command, such as 'come', 'sit' or 'down.

Cookie Toss Game

  • You can set up the behavior of your dog turning their head toward you and then say their name as it's happening. With your dog in front of you, show them a treat and toss it 2 feet away from them. Your dog will go get the treat and chew it. Let them chew it, and as they finish eating the treat, say their name.
  • Your dog should be turning back to you to see if more treats are coming. As your dog turns back after saying their name, say "Yes," and praise and reward them.

Automatic Eye Contact and Check-Backs

Teach your dog that good things happen when they regularly make eye contact and check in with you.

The "Do Nothing" Game

  • Pick a quiet, low distraction place and have your dog on a leash. Sit and hold the leash short, giving your dog enough room to sit, lay down, stand up and turn around.
  • Wait for your dog to look at you. When they do, say "Yes," and praise and reward them. Do this for 5 -10 minutes, and reward your dog every time they look back to you.

Unsolicited Check-Backs

  • When walking or sitting with your dog in normal everyday situations, notice when your dog looks back at you or up at you. When they do so, say "Yes," and praise and reward them.

Tips and Next Steps

  • Some dogs may be fearful and avoid direct eye contact, as dogs can see this as a threatening behavior. Proceed slowly with these dogs. Say "Yes," and praise and reward small gestures from your dog first, whether it is just the turn of their head towards you or a quick glance. As your dog gets more comfortable, add more.
  • Only say your dog's name once. If they don't turn, wait and try again 30 seconds later, making sure you're in a low distraction area and have yummy treats.
  • Once your dog is 90-95% successful in low distraction areas, gradually add in indoor distractions. Start out with minor distractions indoors (e.g. people or pets nearby but not interacting with your dog), and then try big distractions indoors (e.g. someone else is playing with your dog or when the dog's attention is focused on something outdoors).
  • Once your dog is 90-95% successful in higher distraction areas indoors, gradually add in outdoor distractions. First try minor distractions outdoors (e.g. traffic, occasional encounters with people), then try big distractions outdoors (e.g. other dogs kept at a safe distance from your dog, busy streets, crowds of people, bikes).
  • Use the Say Please Program to help keep the training going over the long-term. Have your dog make eye contact with you for everything they want. If they want the ball thrown, they have to look up at you first for it to happen.