Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact

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If your dog doesn’t already know the value of eye contact with humans, you can easily teach her. This is an operant conditioning/positive reinforcement exercise – your dog learns her behavior can make good stuff happen:

1. Holding a tasty treat in your hand, have your dog sit in front of you.

2. Show her the treat and move it to the corner of your eye. When her eyes meet yours, click and treat. Repeat.

3. Say the cue “Watch!” just before you move the treat to your eye. When she makes eye contact, click and treat. Repeat.

teaching eye contact to dogs

4. After several repetitions (the number of repetitions needed will depend on the individual dog), pause after you give the “Watch!” cue and see if she looks into your eyes. If she does, click and treat. If she doesn’t, move the treat to your eye, click and treat.

5. Say “Watch!” Move the treat halfway to your eye, and wait. Just wait. Eventually she will glance at your eyes. Click and treat. (If she never looks at your eyes, do several more repetitions of Step 4.)

6. Say “Watch” and hold the treat at arm’s length out to the side. Wait. She will likely stare at the treat for a moment or two, but invariably, within a few moments, she will glance at your face (usually, in an effort to try to figure out what you are doing!). When she makes eye contact, click and treat.

When your dog has come to realize the value of eye contact, she will sometimes offer the behavior without being cued. Be sure to reinforce offered eye contact as well as cued eye contact. To help her be comfortable with eye contact from other humans, ask your friends to play the “Watch” game with her as well.

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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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