Your Dog Checks in With You
• To capture and reinforce periodic eye contact, or “check-ins” from your dog.
• Your dog’s name can be used to refocus your dog’s attention on you in a variety of situations.
Lay the Foundation:
1. Observe your dog and click the instant he looks at your face.
2. Toss the treat on the floor. Vary where the treat is tossed, or sometimes hand the treat straight to your dog’s mouth. By tossing the treat you are resetting your dog to offer the behavior again rather than just sitting and staring at you.
3. Practice once or twice a day with 10 treats each time.
4. Once your dog is reliably looking at you, start to add the cue, his name, just as he finishes eating the treat and begins to turn to look at you again. The verbal name-saying should precede the eye contact. Practice once or twice a day with 10 treats each time.
• Remember that your dog’s name serves as a cue to look at you. It’s therefore advisable to have a number of nicknames (not just one) that you can use as “throw-away” names. If you over-use his real name without reinforcement, he will soon learn to start ignoring you. Use his nicknames instead for this more disposable function.
• Do not CT any other offered behaviors (jumping, barking, mouthing). Reward only quiet eye contact and attention.
• Sitting on the floor may be easier when starting to train small dogs because the dog will not have to look up as far.
• If you’re having trouble getting your dog to look at you, you can use a kissing noise to attract your dog to look at your face. Only use this kissy noise once or twice.
Respond to the Name Despite Distractions
• To strengthen the dog’s response to his name in the presence of distractions.
1. When your dog is mildly distracted, say his name. Click at the first hint of a response, including something as small as an ear twitch.
2. Continue with another activity until your dog becomes distracted again, then say his name. CT for correct responses.
3. Continue practicing in new situations and environments, periodically saying your dog’s name, and reinforcing all correct responses.
• Take the behavior on the road: while out walking with your dog on leash, say his name and see if he can “check in” even though he is sniffing something interesting, looking at another dog or other people walking by. Keep reinforcing correct responses.
• If you think that the level of distraction is too high to get a “check in”, then rather use a nickname, and increase the distance between your dog and the object of his distraction.
• Do not waste your dog’s name.
Increase the Duration of Eye Contact
• To increase the time your dog maintains eye contact in response to his name.
1. Say your dog’s name. When he looks at you, wait one second, then CT.
2. Slowly increase the duration of eye contact in 1-second increments. Do not reinforce if the dog looks away. Alternate between shorter and longer increments of time, not just longer each time.
3. When your dog is reliably holding eye contact for a few seconds, begin to reintroduce mild distractions, such as holding a treat out to your side. If the dog maintains eye contact, then CT.
• Remember that eye contact is a very human thing, and does not naturally come to dogs. Teach duration slowly, and make sure that your dog’s body language shows that he is comfortable with this behavior. If he is uncomfortable, then go back a step or two or three, and build it up again. Eventually, most dogs learn that eye contact with humans is not a threatening behavior. This is a learned skill for dogs.