Teaching Your Dog To Look At You
We once had a client come in with a rescue dog. He was a recently neutered 3 year old pit bull who likely spent most of his life on the streets. You could tell he meant business by the way he walked, and he was used to being in charge.
It was our job not only to housebreak him, but train him to take his cues from his owners instead of instinctually running after every dog or animal his nose told him to.
That meant we had to focus a lot on getting him to look at his owner for cues. When your dog looks to you for cues becomes easier to communicate with him and teach him other commands. And you reduce the risk of him running after a car, a squirrel, another aggressive dog, etc.
Ideally, you want your dog 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.
1. Choose a word that means “look at me”
You could pick “look” or “here” or “look at me.” You could even pick your dog’s name, or something arbitrary like “splat”. Use this word only for the “look at me” command, and not for other things like sit or down.
2. Start by getting close
When you’re getting started, get really close to your dog. Once you master the look at close range, you can start backing up. The goal is that one day you get him to look at you while he’s on the other side of the room or across the yard.
3. Practice makes perfect
When your dog is in a sit or a down, while on a leash, try walking in circles around him and saying that word. When he looks up at you, give him lots of praise. If you’re at farther distance, you can hold a treat close to your eyes and say the word. The treat gets your dog to look where you want him to. As soon as he does it, reward him with the treat.
4. Start your sign language
When your dog does well with voice commands, you can work in a hand signal. At the same time you say the word, make a hand gesture, something like holding your index finger in front of your eyes. After he looks where you want him to, reward him with lots of praise or a treat.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Once your dog has “look at me” down at home, take this skill to the streets. Practice in your front yard, at the gas station, in an open ball field.
The more you practice, the better your dog will get. Reward your dog if he looks at you without you asking. Take breaks as your dog gets tired. And never punish your dog for not doing what you ask. If you can keep it stress-free, you’ll have a greater chance of success.