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Dexter is the life and soul of every party. He's a sucker for attention, going from guest to guest looking for cuddles and love. You can’t really blame him. He spends most of his time stuck in the house with the same old faces. Plus, you’ve taught Dexter a long list of funny tricks so he knows exactly how to impress. He can roll over, jump, play dead, and a whole load more. But now you want to extend your repertoire and teach your dog a rarer trick - closing his eyes.
The immediate appeal is an entertaining joke that is guaranteed to impress friends and family. In fact, Dexter could soon feature on Instagram and Facebook stories up and down the state with this giggle-inducing trick. But there are also other reasons to teach your dog to close their eyes. For example, this trick can come in handy if they’ve had an eye injury and need to stay still so a vet can examine their eye.
Training a dog to close their eyes isn’t actually that difficult, despite very few dogs being able to do it on command. The trick is finding a situation that naturally causes them to close their eyes and then capitalizing on it. And by capitalizing on it we mean reinforcing the behavior with tasty treats and fun toys. The other way to perform this trick is to lead by example. Dogs mirror their owner's behavior, so if you can show them how to close their eyes on command, they may soon follow suit.
You’ll see the quickest results if your dog is just a puppy, perhaps just a couple of days. This is because they will be eager to please and should be fairly receptive to training. But if your pooh is older and their performing days are in the past, then you may need a couple of weeks before you yield consistent results. Stick with training and you’ll soon have a unique and entertaining trick to impress with.
The great thing about this trick is you need just a few bits to get started. The main component will be a selection of tasty treats. Alternatively, you can break the dog's favorite food into small pieces. For one of the methods, you will also need toys and a clicker.
Set aside just 5 minutes or so for training each day. It’s best to keep training sessions short to keep things fun and to hold their concentration. You can practice in a quiet room in the house or out in your yard.
Once you have all of that, just bring patience and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Trigger Method
Spend a couple of days looking for situations that naturally cause your dog to close their eyes. Of course, sleeping is one, but they’ll be a little too tired for training then. It could be around water, when their hair grows too long or any number of other situations.
Once you’ve found that situation, you’re ready to introduce a verbal command. Simply give a ‘close’ instruction just before or as they are about to close their eyes. Give it in a high-pitched voice, dogs learn quickest when they think they’re playing a game. Note you can use any word or phrase you like for the command.
As soon as the dog does follow your command and closes their eyes, give them a reward. Try to make sure they get it within three seconds of closing their eyes otherwise they may not associate the reward with the action. You can use treats, toys and/or verbal praise as your rewards.
Practice makes perfect
Now you simply need to practice regularly. They will soon start to associate the command with the action. At which point, you can start giving the instruction in a range of different situations.
Lose the rewards
Keep training until your dog closes their eyes whenever instructed. When you do reach this stage, you can slowly cut out the rewards. By this point they will know what’s expected and simply pleasing their owner will be enough.
The Watch Me Method
Take your dog into a quiet room and capture their attention with a treat or a toy. Then kneel in front of them and try to hold eye contact to further draw their gaze. Then, in an exaggerated way, close your eyes with a big, extended blink.
At the same time as you close your eyes, give a verbal cue, such as ‘close’. While you can use any word or phrase you like for this instruction, try to keep it short and make sure it isn’t being used in conjunction with any other commands.
Now comes the time-consuming part: you need to do this again and again in front of your dog until they catch on. Fortunately, dogs learn from mirroring their owner's behavior, so eventually they will do it themselves. It can help to have a friend there to see if they start doing it, since your eyes will be shut half the time.
Keep repeating the behavior for a few minutes each day until the dog follows your lead. As soon as they do, give them a generous reward. Use treats, toys and anything else they love. Also shower them in verbal praise.
Stop leading the way
Once your pooch follows your instruction once successfully, they will quickly catch on. You can then stop demonstrating and stick to giving the instruction. Keep practicing until they close their eyes in a range of situation. At this point, gradually phase out the rewards.
The Toy & Click Method
A clicker is a brilliant way to speed up training with your dog. Simply click and reward whenever they perform a trick correctly. The click soon becomes an effective signal, letting them know when they are on the right track.
Look for a situation that causes your dog to close their eyes naturally. This could be when they’re excited, scared, nervous, hungry, and any other number of things, depending on the dog.
As soon as you’ve found the trigger, place them in the situation and wait for them to close their eyes. As soon as they do, click to let them know they have done something right, even if they’re not sure what yet. You can then play around with a toy for a minute or so.
You can now start introducing a verbal cue. Use any phrase, just give the instruction in a playful tone. Dogs respond best to training when they think they’re playing a game.
Now you just need to keep practicing using the cue, followed by the click and the reward. Before you know it, your dog will associate the command with closing their eyes. At which point you can lose the rewards and just rely on the clicker to let them know they’ve done a good job.
By James Barra
Published: 05/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021