Sam is helping me demonstrate one way for teaching your dog to look at and focus on you rather than a distraction.
How to teach ‘eye contact’
(c) 2013, Playful Pooch Program. All rights reserved. Written by mentor Dr. Risë VanFleet, and posted with her permission.
EYE CONTACT GAME
This method works best with clicker training, but if you have not yet used a clicker or haven’t learned much about clicker training yet, you can use the approach below, using the word, “Yessssss!” and a big smile as a marker of good behavior.
1. Ask your dog to sit and stay.
2. Give your dog a few treats, one at a time, while he/she is sitting and staying.
3. After a few times, keep the treat in your left hand, and hold it out to your left side. Watch your dog’s eyes carefully.
4. At this point, one of two things typically happens – your dog either just stares at the treat or the dog will look back and forth between the treat and you, probably wondering why you’re just holding it there. At this point, be patient and keep holding the treat out to your left side without moving it around. Also don’t say anything – just be patient.
5. When your dog looks at you really solidly–makes a commitment to looking at you, IMMEDIATELY say the word “Yessss!” with a big smile, and give the dog the treat. If the dog is looking back and forth, just wait him or her out for a short while. Wait for that commitment of looking right at you.
6. If your dog’s eyes seem glued to the treat and the dog doesn’t look at you, just wait for up to about 20 seconds. After that, you can just give a little “hint” by clearing your throat (try to avoid using the dog’s name at this point – just some noise that might prompt your dog to look up at you). If this does not work, start over and reposition the treat (back to the same position) and try again.
7. Most dogs will eventually look at you, and you want to IMMEDIATELY say “Yessss!” and give the treat. If you wait too long, it’ll make it much harder for the dog to learn the behavior you want. Do not expect the dog to hold the eye contact for long – give the treat immediately when you feel that the dog has committed to looking at you instead of having those eyeballs moving back and forth rapidly.
TIP: Your dog may not fully learn this in one training session. The training session should only be 5 minutes or less. Stop after that time, and come back to it later. Doing this a few times every day for short periods rather than one big long training period is better.
8. Keep repeating this until the dog automatically looks at you instead of the treat. After the dog does this every time, you can change to the other side. Hold the treat in your right hand and hold it out to your right side. You will see that dogs don’t generalize well, and your dog might go back through the whole looking back-and-forth process with you again. Keep this up until the dog is looking automatically at you from the right side.
9. After this, you can hold the treat a few inches closer to the dog. Only work on one change at a time! Once your dog is looking at you automatically again from the closer distance, move it even closer! Keep moving it closer, but always wait until the dog succeeds several times before moving it even closer.
10. Eventually, you should be able to hold the treat right next to the dog’s nose and the dog will still look at you, but you have to get there gradually, one step at a time.
CONSIDERATIONS: If your dog does not learn this quickly, it probably means you are trying things too quickly or they are a bit too difficult for the dog. Try increasing the distance of the treat from the dog.
Only work on one behavior at a time. Just focus on this behavior for a few days, and even within this behavior, only make a change to new positions after the dog is being successful all the time with the previous positions.