Eye Contact in Dog Training

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There are many examples where eye contact is useful in our training and every day activities with our dogs. Here are some of them:

eye contact in dog training

✓✓ Attention for focused heeling

✓✓ Keeping attention while waiting to give next cue

✓✓ Maintaining attention so your dog doesn’t pester passersby in public places

✓✓ Keeping focus for duration of a wait or stay”

✓✓ Holding attention during demonstration of behavior for imitation training

✓✓ Keeping attention while hiding treats to teach “Find it” behavior

✓✓ Teaching directional exercise in advanced obedience competition

✓✓ Teaching directional signals for Treibball and herding

As valuable as eye contact can be, there are also times when it can be a hindrance. In K9 Nosework, tracking, earthdog trials, and a variety of other canine activities, the dog is supposed to be focused on the task, not the handler. As I recently learned, this is true of agility, too.

dog walking

Our Kelpie, Kai, is a master at eye contact. My husband and I recently signed up for a foundation agility class with Kai at Kamp Kitty in nearby West Virginia. We entered the training center proudly on the first day of class with him heeling next to me, and beautifully focused on me. To our dismay, we were told that kind of focus is detrimental to agility, where the dog needs to focus on the equipment, not the handler. Fortunately Kai is bright and adaptable, quickly figured out the new rules, and dearly loves to play the agility game.

As much as we value eye contact, we also need to remember to give our dogs time just to be dogs. Focused leash-walking is great, but it’s quite taxing. (Imagine taking every walk with your eyes fixed on your best friend’s face the entire time!) Our canine companions also need plenty of time to smell the flowers, read the pee-mail, and chase the occasional squirrel up a tree.

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

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