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You’ve taken him out for his morning walk and you’ve just reached his favorite pond. You launch his tennis ball into the water that he’s eagerly been waiting for. He plunges into the pond and makes his way across the water to get it. Unfortunately, he can’t see the ball as well as you can from above and is struggling to locate it. You know it’s directly to his left, but you have no way of directing him there. This is a common occurrence and being able to get him to look left and right would quickly alleviate the problem.
If you’re big on doggie road safety you could even have him check his left and right before he crosses the road! Not to mention it makes for a pretty awesome trick for when guests are over. A dog that can look left and right is guaranteed to feature on Snapchat stories all over the state.
You’d be surprised to learn that, although you don’t encounter many dogs that can look both ways, it’s actually pretty straightforward to train. It requires obedience commands to be drilled into him. But with the right tasty incentive and consistent training, he could respond to training in just a few days. If he’s getting on a bit and not quite as keen to please as he once was, then it may take a week or two before you see results.
If you succeed with this training they’ll be lots of odd perks that will put a smile on your face. Yes, you’ll always get a giggle when you have family and friends over, but it also has some practical purposes too. If he’s getting on a bit you can get him to warm up with a stretch of his head and neck before he walks!
Before training starts you’ll need to get some things together. A generous supply of treats will be needed. Alternatively, break his favorite food into small chunks. The tastier the treat the more eager he will be to learn.
You’ll also need 10 minutes each day to dedicate to training. During this 10 minutes, try and find a quiet place, free from the distractions of a noisy household.
Then just bring an optimistic attitude and a good degree of patience and you can get going!
The Clear Direction Method
Get in position
Stand in front of him with a treat in your hand. Make sure you have his undivided attention and hold it at head height. If it’s too low he may lie down and if it’s too high he might start jumping, so find the right height.
Issue a ‘left’ command
As you do this slowly move your treat filled hand to his left. Do this very slowly so his eyes are fixed directly on the treat. To start with you don’t need to go too far left otherwise he may lose interest.
As soon as his head rotates left, reward him with a treat and play. You need to really show him how happy you are, then he’ll make the link between the action and the reward much quicker. Practice doing this for 10 minutes each day for the first couple of days. As he gets better, you can have him turn his head even further before you give him the treat.
Switch to the right
Once he has mastered the left head turn, repeat exactly the same process but use a ‘right’ command. Remember, to start with you will need to lead him with your hand slowly. Also, make sure the command is clear; you don’t want him mixing up his left and right. Practice this for a couple of days until he’s picked up the 'right' command too.
Mix things up
When he can do both separately, you can mix them up. Alternate between the left and right and he’ll quickly get the hang of it. Once he gets good and can look left and then right with ease, you can stop giving him treats.
The Tag Team Method
Get in position with a helper
Stand in front of your dog but have a friend/family member stand to his right hand side with a treat. You are going to work together to train him to look each way. Make sure the friend has a toy that emits a sound in his hand.
Issue a ‘look left’ command in a clear voice. At the same time, have the friend make a sound with the toy. The trick is for the friend to get his attention but not to make such a fuss that he rushes over to him.
As soon as he looks left to the toy give him a treat and show him how pleased you are. Make sure the friend stays still, but you show him he’s done a good job. The more you reinforce the right behavior the quicker he will learn. Practice this for 10 minutes a day until he gets the hang of it. Once he does, lose the friend and rely on just the verbal command alone. If he doesn’t look left without the friend there, it’s too early to get rid of him just yet.
Switch to the right
Repeat exactly the same process on the other side. Make sure you follow all the same steps and issue the command clearly so he doesn’t get confused. Keep practicing until he can do both independently.
Once he’s got the hang of it you can combine the two commands. Try two left and two right to begin with, then when he can start to alternate well you can go left, right, left right to your hearts content. Then you can finally lose the treats and the trick is complete!
The Verbal Cues Later Method
Get in position
Stand in front of him with a treat in your hand. At this point, decide which direction you want to teach him first. He will need to learn one direction thoroughly before you move onto the next or he may get confused.
Lead with the treat
With the treat in your hand, rotate it around his head, for the purpose of this example we will go left first. Keep your hand movement slow and rotate it until he is looking at a 90 degree angle.
As soon as his head reaches that angle, give him the treat and verbally praise him. It is really important you reinforce the action with lots of praise. Keep practicing this until he starts looking left as soon as you bring out the treat.
Then introduce a ‘look left’ command. Only introduce the command once he’s got the hang of it. Then keep practicing for a couple of days and he will soon associate the command with looking left too. Do not start training him to look right until you are confident he has mastered the left.
Switch to the right
Repeat exactly the same process but with the right. Once he can do both independently, you can start combining them. He may get confused the first few times so make sure your commands are clear and use a treat to guide him to start with. Once he gets the hang of it you can slowly reduce the frequency of treats until they are no longer needed
By James Barra
Published: 10/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021