Eye Contact

What you are training

You’re teaching the dog that eye contact is a good thing.

Why you should train this

  • We’re teaching the dog that eye contact is a good thing as dogs can find direct eye contact threatening.
  • It will encourage your dog to ‘check in’ (keep looking back at you) with you when on a walk.

How you will train this

We’ll use rewards to make a positive association with looking into your eyes.  We’re not going to put a hand signal or a verbal command to this, as we want the dog to offer eye contact, rather than having to request it.

Step 1

  • Feed your dog 5 treats in sucession.

Step 2

Criteria

When to stop feeding your dog, initially he will be focussed on your hands, but when no treats are forthcoming he should glance at you wondering why.  You will mark (‘yesss!’) your dog as soon as he glances towards you.

  • Wait for the dog to look in your direction
  • As soon as the dog looks in your direction
  • Mark (‘yesss!’) 
  • Reward
  • Repeat

Step 3

When your dog is consistently looking towards you, you’ll only reward if he looks into your eyes.

Criteria

You will mark (‘yesss!’) your dog as soon as he makes any kind of direct eye contact.

  • Wait for the dog to make direct eye contact
  • As soon as the dog makes eye contact, no matter how brief
  • Mark (‘yesss!’) 
  • Reward
  • Repeat

Step 4

When your dog starts to realise that offering eye contact gets the reward, you can increase the duration of the eye contact.

Criteria

You will mark (‘yesss!’) your dog as soon as he maintains eye contact for a second.

  • Wait for the dog to make direct eye contact
  • As soon as the dog makes eye contact
  • Silently count to 1
  • Mark (‘yesss!’) 
  • Reward
  • Repeat

Help

If your dog is having problems offering eye contact

  • Take a treat and place it between your thumb and forefinger 
  • Show the dog the treat
  • Raise the treat to your eyes
  • As soon as the dog makes eye contact, no matter how brief, mark (‘yesss!’) 
  • Reward
  • Repeat

Homework

  • Ask each member of the family to do this exercise with your dog (you can use your dog’s kibble and add treats intermittently).
  • Vary the locations where you do this exercise; different rooms in the house, in the garden, when you’re out for a walk.
  • Practice step 4, varying the length of time your dog needs to look at you to get the treat.
  • Do this exercise twice daily until your dog seems happy offering you eye contact.
  • Do this exercise intermittently throughout your dog’s life.

More reading

We’re using ‘classical conditioning’ to help the dog make positive associations with offering and receiving direct eye contact.