Not sure what to do with your new pup? Once you are able to resist the cuteness of your new family member, it is time to start training. Dogs can be trained from an early age, so begin teaching your puppy about your expectations and the world around them as soon as he or she arrives in your home. The sooner you begin teaching them good manners and social skills, the easier it will be for you when they hit the difficult period of adolescence.
Let’s continue with the refresher on good manners series. We have been working on the dog training basics and tried exercises that teach dogs the basic behaviours needed for more advanced training:
– “touch” (also called targeting), which teaches the dog to follow owner’s hand
–“eye contact”, which teaches the dog to focus on the owner instead of a distraction
The last foundation exercise is “Kiss”. It comes handy, when you need to get the dog’s attention quickly and when teaching a dog to walk on a leash without pulling. Essentially, it is a proactive variation of “eye contact”: you don’t wait till the dog looks at you, but rather teach it to turn to you on a cue. The most convenient and universal cue for this is a kiss sound, hence the name of the exercise. As usual, start in a quiet environment and gradually increase the amount of distractions.
You may have heard that you are not supposed to look a dog directly in the eyes as it can be dangerous and provokes aggression. Indeed, dogs tend to avoid direct eye contact, when signaling peaceful intention. A dog staring in the eyes of another dog is most likely trying to challenge it. So, it is true: direct eye contact can be a sign of not so friendly mood. However, I am sure that your dog(s) often look you in the eyes for the same purpose people do: questioning, demanding attention or just keeping in contact. I think they learn it from us and are not as uncomfortable with eye contact as some sources lead you to believe.
So, why is eye contact important? First, it is the primary way for us, humans, to know that we have the dog’s attention. Some dog’s are good listeners, but Milo appears to only be able to use one sense at a time, and hearing is not his favourite. Second, it allows your dog to improve its concentration abilities. Finally, teaching the dog to make eye contact, when it sees a distraction (i.e., other dogs) or when in doubt, ensures that you will have your dog’s attention at critical moments. Today I will share one of the exercises that teach your dog to make eye contact.
Exercise: “Look at me”
This exercise will teach your dog to focus on you instead of a distraction. If your dog is food motivated, use treats. If a ball is more tempting, then use a ball or a toy as a distraction.
1. Have a clicker in one hand and a few treats (or a ball) in another.
2. Show the treats to the dog. You can let it smell it or move your hand in front of the dog’s nose, teasing.
3. Move your hand slightly away from the dog, so the dog can’t reach it, but can still see and smell the treats.
4. Look at the dog and wait until it looks at you. Click and treat. Initially, you can reward the dog for just looking away from the distraction. The goal is to gradually bring the dog to make eye contact with you, when the distraction is present.
5. Once your dog starts making eye contact consistently, you can increase difficulty by changing hands, moving the distraction, bringing treats closer to the dog etc.
This exercise serves as a foundation for work with certain behavioral problems in dogs. For example, the same idea can be applied to treating reactive dogs (dogs who overreact to certain stimuli). In that case, you can teach your dog to look at you, when it sees other dogs, people or other things to which the dog may overreact.