Training is a necessary and important part of having a dog. Besides housebreaking, training your dog to look at you may be the most important lesson to teach her. It can not only be immensely helpful at home and out in public, but also important for your dog’s safety.
If you can get your dog to focus on you instead of everything else going on around him, it will be easier to communicate with him and teach him other commands — not to mention getting him to ignore that taunting squirrel, far-off bark, or daily visit from the mailman. In addition, that look is also helping to build your relationship with your dog.
It’s not enough, however, for your dog to just randomly look at you. You want her to look at you when you ask. Dogs learn by eye contact, body language, and finally through a voice command, so incorporating all three will quickly help your dog learn to look at you.
Follow these steps to get your dog to look at you on cue.
- Choose a word or phrase that will mean “look at me”
We want our dog to develop an association to whatever word or phrase you choose to mean “look at me.” It could be as easy as the word “look,” “look at me,” your dog’s name, or even something random like “monkey.” Whatever word or phrase you choose, make sure you’re not using it for a different command. For example, don’t use the word “sit” to get your dog to look. That will only confuse her.
- Stand or sit facing your dog
When you’re first starting out, the closer you are to your dog, the quicker he will learn a command. Once he masters the command at a close distance, you can then start adding space between you two and continue to practice it. Eventually you should even be able to get to the point where he will obey when you’re on the other side of the room.
- Practice the command with your dog
While you’re standing or sitting in front of her, look at your dog and then say your cue word while holding a treat close to your eyes. By holding the treat in front of your eyes, you are encouraging your dog to look there — setting her up for success. As soon as she looks at you, maintain eye contact briefly so she knows that’s what you want, and then reward her with the treat. When your dog gets a treat for looking at you after hearing your specific word, she will obey in hopes of getting a treat every time.
- Add in a hand signal
After your dog does a good job with the treat reward, you will want to start working in a hand signal to continue making him obey. At the same time, you’ll want to start phasing out the treat reward. You want him to be able to respond to you instead of food every time. When you add a hand signal, continue to say your cue word as you hold your index finger in front of your eyes, indicating that’s where you want your dog to look. After he correctly looks at you using the spoken cue and hand signal, you will reward him with a treat.
- Practice everywhere
After your dog is able to get the hang of looking at you in the comfort of your home, you will want to continue your practice in different places and situations to make sure she can obey no matter what. Practice in your front yard or driveway, after a walk, at the park, and anywhere you and your pup might go. Also practice by putting a treat or toy on the floor and getting her to look at you first before giving her the okay to grab the toy or treat.
The more you practice, the more your dog will master the command, at which point you can start transitioning away from the treat reward. After some time, she won’t need the treat anymore because she knows her command to look at you!
Training your dog isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and effort. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, your dog will be better behaved, which will make both of you happy.
Here are a few more training tips that you should remember when teaching your dog something new:
- Reward spontaneous responses
If your dog looks at you without being asked, make sure you reward that behavior. The more you reinforce the positive behavior, the quicker your dog will learn and obey.
- Take a break if your dog is tired
Your dog will get tired if you try to practice a single command endlessly. If your dog stops responding or seems tired, take a break and pick it up some other time. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is more than enough.
- Never yell at your dog or punish him for not obeying
Try again, and if that doesn’t work, take a break and see if there’s anything you can do better next time.