Q. I try to teach my dog tricks but she just won’t pay attention to me. Help!
A. Have you ever noticed when your dog looks at you? It’s always when she wants something, right? Why not turn this around with the eye contact game so she’ll look at you to ask “please”?
We started the eye contact game in the February issue right after jump-starting the clicker. Refresh your memory if you have to, and refresh your dog’s memory too.
First, control the “attractions” in your training area. Find a place where your dog is quite comfortable and seems bored. If nothing is attracting her attention away from you, you and your clicker and treats will be the best game around.
Put a treat in your hand, show it to your dog, then move it a short distance away from your body and wait. When your dog quits looking at the treat and glances your way, click and treat. Escalate the game, making it harder by expecting quicker and more intense eye contact. Soon your dog will not bother to watch your treat hand move away from your body.
Practice the eye contact game until you can move both hands all over the place and your dog doesn’t look at either hand because eye contact is where it’s at.
Repeat the eye contact game with minor distractions. If you make the game too hard too fast, your dog may be easily swayed by temptations in busy places, so find an area with less craziness. And control the temptations with a buckle collar and leash; clip leash to collar and tie the other end around your waist. Make the leash short enough to keep her from sniffing the ground.
Don‘t touch the leash – keep hands off! You need your hands for the clicker and treats. Remember that the leash is a temporary tool; don’t let it become a crutch. Dogs are not stupid; they know if the leash is on or off, short or long.
Review the easy stuff, then ask for more. Play the game until your dog reacts as if he were off leash, without any leash tension. Keep at it until she ignores all distractions and looks deep into your soul – an unforgettable experience.
Play the eye contact game in everyday life. If you wait for eye contact before letting her out of her crate, you’ll begin to experience the fringe benefits of the game. Instead of acting wild and crazy when you approach the crate, she will start thinking and calm herself in order to give you eye contact.
Wait for eye contact before feeding, going outside, or getting out of the car. If she is a tugging maniac on walks and tries to drag you along, stop, brace yourself, and back up a bit, and wait. When she finally turns and gives you that highly annoyed doggie stare, say “good!” or “Yes!” and let her explore. Soon anything she wants to investigate will become a signal to ask “Mother, may I?”
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