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The Role of Eye Contact in Dog Training

Dog Training

Every wolf pack has a leader, also referred to as the alpha figure. This wolf, sometimes a male, sometimes a female, controls many aspects of pack life, including, to a degree, defecation and urination rights and spots. Dogs, of course, are directly descended from wolves and now live in human packs. Problems arise when an individual dog, either through his genetic makeup or improper training by his owner, comes to think of himself as the leader of the pack.

If your dog thinks that he is the leader, you are in trouble. How can you know? Usually if you have behavior problems with your dog, you are not considered the leader no matter how you think you are viewed by your pet.

One way to establish your leadership or “Alphahood” is to simply get your dog’s eye. You might think that your dog looks at you quite frequently, but take a moment to think about the terms. They are usually the dog’s. Does your dog look at you but only when he feels like it? That’s not eye contact. That is the dog looking at you because he wants something. You can establish eye contact on your terms by formalizing the look-at-me process.

Not Me.  I'm an Angel.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Patrick Hoesly

Take your dog, on leash, and have him “Sit.” Hold a little upward tension on the lead and bend down and touch your dog’s muzzle and immediately bring your hand up to your eyes. At the same time, make a clicking sound and say something like, “Laddy, look up here at me right now.”

Don’t just say the dog’s name or “Laddy, look.” It won’t be enough to get the dog to lock eyes with you. What you’re aiming for is about three to four seconds of solid eye contact when the dog looks up at you with an attitude of “your wish is my command.” Make sure that after you touch his muzzle and then your eyes that you straighten up right away so that the dog truly looks up at you and not you down at the dog.

Once you have the lock, end the moment with some light verbal (not physical) praise such as, “Good boy. Laddy!” Then turn and go about your business. Do not worry about leaving the dog sitting there wondering, “What was that all about?”

Your dog will soon realize that what it is about is “look at me when I ask you to look, watch me, get out of your own world and into mine.” This is a wonderful foundation for any puppy or older dog (especially if house-soiling is a problem) because the eye contact starts to overflow into his regular, daily life so that he looks at you from across a room. Then you can catch your dog’s eye more readily to direct him to not do something.

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