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Picture this all too common scenario:
You and your pooch are out for a weekend stroll in the local park. The park is fairly empty and, so far, your morning exercise and bonding time are going swimmingly. As you turn around a bend, however, children kick a ball from the playground area onto the walking path. Fido instantly spots the ball and sees only an opportunity for a game of fetch. Before you know it, you’re tugging and pulling, yelling out “Fido, no!” and generally making a scene in front of the whole neighborhood. If this sounds familiar, never fear. There’s an easy to teach obedience command that not only can help with this common scenario but that also sets the foundation for training tons of other fun and useful doggy behaviors and tricks.
When it comes to dog training 101, the ‘look’ command is perhaps one of the most useful behaviors in your learned behavior arsenal. ‘Look’ involves your dog making eye contact with you, or in more advanced forms, focusing their gaze on whichever object you may indicate. ‘Look’ is incredibly useful for getting your pooch’s attention on you and off of other potential distractions. ‘Look’ also teaches your dog to “check in” with you often, building a solid foundation in which they rely on you for cues as to proper doggy etiquette. Because of this, ‘look’ is widely considered to be one of the foundational doggy behaviors and one that, once mastered, can make training other behaviors easier.
Every good doggy training session begins with preparing the tools you’ll need to get the job done right. Pet owners that are embarking on a training regimen with their pooch may want to have a doggy training bag ready to go in order to facilitate impromptu lessons in a variety of scenarios. Here are a few things that will be essential to making training fun for both you and your pup:
- Dog treats: Treats or cookies should be small and easily eaten in one bite. If you give your dog cookies normally, think something about ½ to ¼ the size of a normal cookie. You should have several “values” of treats such as plain cookies, cheese and even small pieces of meat, to reward your pooch for that extra good behavior.
- Treat pouch: A treat pouch that hooks onto your belt or attaches at the waist is a great way to keep your hands free for treating while training your pet.
- Quiet, distraction-free space: When training any new behavior, set your dog up for success by starting out in a quiet, distraction-free space such as the living room, backyard or familiar (empty) park.
- Pick a command: Choose a word or “cue” for your ‘look’ behavior. “Watch”, “look” and “me” are all common cues. Avoid using your dog’s name for teaching ‘look’ as that can cause confusion for your pooch when their name is used conversationally or by others.
Just like their humans, each dog has a different way of learning new behaviors. Below are three methods and progressions to try on for size when it comes to teaching the look command.
The Wait and See Method
When to try
This method is great for dogs that are naturally attentive.
Settle in with your dog someplace quiet, such as the living room, kitchen or back yard. Sit in front of your dog and get prepared to be patient.
Wait for your dog to settle down and start to pay attention to you. Since Fido may be excited by this new game of you sitting with him, there may be sniffing and playing and general silliness before he senses something is up. If your dog is high energy or easily distracted, a leash may come in handy here to keep him from wandering off.
Wait for eye contact
Wait for Fido to make eye contact. Eventually your dog will become bored or will want to “check in”. It may take some time, but the natural instinct will kick in and they’ll seek reaffirming behavior, such as with making eye contact.
Once your dog focuses on you, even briefly, reward and treat as quickly as possible to the behavior. It’s important to use your praise word (or clicker if you choose to use one) at nearly the same time as supplying the treat.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Your dog may be initially surprised by the reward. Since treats are yummy, though, he’ll seek to repeat the behavior, and corresponding treat. Be sure to only reward once your pooch has “looked” at you and, eventually, the light bulb will click and you’ll have Fido staring longingly into your eyes.
The Luring Method
When to try
This approach is great for puppies that are easily distracted or highly food motivated.
Similar to the ‘Wait and See’ approach, you’ll need to find a quiet, distraction-free area and set yourself up with your dog on a leash or tether. Give your pup some time to quiet and calm down before beginning.
Set a lure
Take a small treat from the treat bag and make sure your dog sees it. Keep some distance from your dog so that she has the ability to see the treat but can’t easily grab it from your hand.
Lead with the lure
Slowly bring the treat up to your eye level, ensuring that your pooch is watching it. When the treat is between your eyes, at the top of your nose, pause and wait for your dog to make eye contact.
When your dog’s eyes move from the treat to your eyes instantly praise and treat.
Repeat these steps multiple times in short, daily sessions, eventually removing the treat from your hand and having your dog watch your hand and eventually your eyes. Be sure to reward/treat with the other hand to build the correct association between eye contact and treating.
The Cues and Signals Method
When to try
This is an advanced training method for dogs that already “get it” when it comes to basic learning of 'look'.
Choose training locations
You’ll need to identify several spaces of increasing distraction levels. Start out with your front room or backyard and then also identify several spots where there are mild and severe distractions. These will serve as steps up and help build a solid, unbreakable look command.
Use either the ‘Luring’ or ‘Wait and See’ method above to initially train the ‘look’ command. Once your dog is reliably making eye contact in return for a treat, it’s time to add in the voice cues.
Add a command
The next time you repeat the training exercise for ‘look’, add in a cue word such as “watch me”, “look” or a similar attention grabber. It’s important that you not use the cue before your dog has learned to look reliably.
Add a signal
Once Fido is making eye contact on demand using a cue word, add in a hand signal or gesture. Dogs are capable of recognizing a wide variety of gestures and hand orientations. Some common gestures include touching your hand to your temple, bring your hand up towards your eyes, or tapping your shoulder or other body part to signal a ‘look’.
Use the hand signal or gesture consistently with the cue word, then, as your dog gains reliability, remove the cue word and use only hand gestures. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’ve got a well-trained pooch!
By Kimberly Maciejewski
Published: 02/14/2018, edited: 01/08/2021