Good Dog: Pay Attention to Me!
"Watch" this – my dog looks me in the eye.
by Johanna Teresi
Does your dog barely acknowledge you during your daily walks? Teaching your dog to "watch," or look at you on command, is very helpful.
It is easier to get your dog to ignore a nearby distraction such as your dog's best friend playing on the other side of a busy street. When your dog is looking at you, his eyes and attention focus on you. You will have a much easier time requesting other commands such as "sit," "down" and "stay." Also, "watch" can relax your dog. If he is whining or barking, this command will usually quiet him. And your dog will "watch" voluntarily, and he will be more attentive to you during your walks. Finally, if your dog has aggressive behavior, "watch" is an excellent alternative to lunging. Be certain to consult a professional reward-based dog trainer for aggressive dogs (see APDT.com to find qualified trainers in your area).
"Watch" is easy to teach. Because the "watch" behavior tends to happen quickly, it is easier to teach if your dog is clicker trained (visit www.catalystmagazine.net and see the January article "Clicker Training"). Place a visible treat in your hand, then lower your hand to the dog's muzzle. Next, move your hand diagonally to your eyes; your dog will follow the motion and give you direct eye contact. Click and treat (C/T) immediately when your dog's eyes meet with yours, even if the eye contact lasts less than a second. Practice this five to ten times. Say "watch," and repeat the same hand movement without the treat in your hand. C/T when your dog's eyes meet yours. Practice this five to ten times. Finally, you are ready to use the verbal command without the hand movement – say "watch" with your hands stationary at your side. C/T when your dog's eyes meet yours. Practice this five to 10 times. Once your dog is readily watching you on command, you may occasionally reward him with a treat.
Of course, a short "watch" is not effective in keeping your dog's attention. The next step is to gradually increase the duration of your dog's "watch" in one second increments. Practice and C/T five to 10 times at each new time interval. When your dog readily "watches" you for one second, increase the "watch" to two seconds. Then repeat the same for three four and so on until you reach your desired duration (probably five to 10 seconds). As soon as your dog gives reliable eye contact for the desired length of time, reduce the rewards to an occasional treat. You will also want to vary the duration of the "watches" so that your dog does not have to "watch" you for 10 seconds every time. Otherwise, your dog may learn to dread the command because he knows that the "watch" will always be long and boring!
Lastly, teach your dog to retain his "watch" in the midst of distractions. As you add distractions, decrease the duration of the "watch." Once your dog "watches" well for short durations with distractions, you should increase the time duration. Remember to C/T your dog's "watches" until they are reliable with distractions; then you can switch to occasional rewards.
Now when you walk your dog, you can feel you're really communicating with your pet, who heeds you rather than jumping, barking or running toward passersby!
Johanna Teresi is a professional dog trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC. fourleggedscholars.com.