How to Teach a Dog to Make Eye Contact
Eye contact opens lines of communication...
Making eye contact with your dog allows to open up the lines of communication, something necessary for both training and bonding purposes. While some time ago, it was believed that full eye contact issued a challenge, today more positive, modern-based training methods actually encourage eye contact from lesson one. The importance of giving eye contact therefore cannot be emphasized enough if your goal is to have a dog that trusts you and follows your directions.
Understanding Why Eye Contact is Important
When I met my first client, his dog a Golden Retriever mix known by the name of ''Tori'' had no clue about eye contact. Tori needed to learn basic commands and I had a week to polish up her skills before she was sent with her owner to a new military installation. Before teaching her how to make eye contact, I could not get ''through'' her. All the exercises I was telling her to do, sort of went to ''deaf ears''. Once eye contact was established, everything went smoothly from there and at the end of the week, Tori understood sit, lie down, stay and stopped pulling on the leash.
The main goal of making eye contact is therefore to open up the communication. Upon asking a dog a command, you need your dog's attention first, and then you can verbally announce the command and ask the dog to go ahead and do it. When these communication lines are open, you are more likely to obtain results.
How to Teach Eye Contact in Dogs
There are several ways to teach a dog to make eye contact. If your dog is not used to give you eye contact, it may take some time. With these exercises your dog will learn how to give eye contact on command. Make sure you equip yourself with the tastiest treats such as slices of hot dogs, freeze dried liver or chopped up steak.
One way to teach eye contact is to make a noise your dog finds attractive. A whistle, a pop with your mouth, a smacking noise may work. Make the noise and as soon as the dog looks up to you, bring the treat to your eye level and feed it to your dog. After a few tries, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with the treat and will naturally start looking up at you more and more often.
With time, your dog will learn to directly look into your eyes upon request. With time, you can also test your dog without making an audible noise. If you want to bring this training up a notch. you can practice the ''airplane exercise''. Basically, have your dog sit in front of you and keep one arm out to the side with a treat. The dog will likely look at your arms, but be patient, wait until the dog looks into your eyes. When he does, bring the treat to your mouth and feed it to the dog.
Later, try to keep both arms distended and try the same exercises. As the dog gets good at it, you can ask for longer and longer eye contact. These exercise will teach your dog that eye contact is pleasant, and from now on, training will be easier because you will have your dog's full attention.
Eye contact can range from a few seconds to long minutes as when dogs are trained in competition heeling. Competition heeling requires the dog to walk with its head high looking into the owner's eyes for several minutes. Any average owner may also use brief episodes of heeling with eye contact to their advantage when they must walk their dogs in crowded areas full of distractions. Eye contact is also great for fearful dogs. Dogs may therefore surpass other dogs, children and crowds ignoring these distractions while keeping full focus on the owner. Of course high value treats are required for areas of high distraction.
As seen, eye contact is fundamental for training dogs and building up trust. Eye contact may make training easier and dogs may also feel reassured just by looking at the owner for a brief period. One of the most satisfying moments of dog training is when the dog is unsure of what to do and looks straight at the owner's eyes for directions, at this point we know the dog trusts the owner and is literally asking for guidance.
Note: some particularly fearful dogs may not like eye contact as it is perceived as intimidating. If you are dealing with a dog who becomes aggressive upon making eye contact, seek the advice of a dog behaviorist.