Friday, July 15, 2011

Command Clinic: Look at me

Theoretically, in doggie body language, direct eye contact is not polite.  It could be a threat or a challenge, or it could just make other dogs uncomfortable.  It depends, and I dont' know enough of the particulars beyond what I just said to discourse on it just yet.

To humans, though, eye contact is very important.  If somebody avoids eye contact, they don't like you, or they're lying.  If they give you direct eye contact, it shows you're important to them, they're paying attention.  If they absolutely won't look away, it could be a threat or a challenge (I'm seeing some overlap here).

Let's focus on the "important" thing, though.  Sometimes, it's important for our dogs to look at us.  It could be so you can give them cues, which could be very significant with regards to safety or with regards to Qualifying on that agility course.  It could be so you can take a picture.  It could be just to get your dog's attention.  Overall, "Look at me" is a pretty handy cue.

As with most things, I've found teaching "Look at me" to be easiest with food.  Typically when one is holding a treat, one's dog is watching that treat intently.  This is definitely true with Elka.  You can move the treat around, and she will move her head around with it, target locked.  If your dog does this, have fun for a little bit, but not to the point where you're teasing your dog, of course.  Then, move the treat so it's in front of your face.  Say "Look at me", praise, and give the treat up.

After some time passes, and some treats exchange hands, you'll be able to say "Look at me" with a hand motion (I use my index and middle fingers, and point at my eyes while looking at Elka), and your dog will follow the hand motion.  Praise, and treat.  If you're using a clicker, click and treat, while simultaneously praising.  Multitasking at its finest.  My recommendation is to start training this cue in the house, in a room where it's quiet and there are few distractions from you and your treat.  After you've got it solid in the house, then take it to the yard, then take that act on the road.


  1. I definitely agree. Attention is one of the most important behaviours to teach a dog, especially one you haven't built up a bond with yet.
    I taught this through shaping, though your method works just as well. On walks or while hanging out around the house, I would reward every time she glanced in my direction. Eventually she learned that looking at me was fun and I could put it on a cue. Even now I will occasionally reward her for choosing to glance my way when out in public. Sometimes I have problems getting her to watch where she is going!

    Love the last photo. What a sweet expression. :-)

  2. Attention is something that not a lot of books cover, which surprises me. It's something I've come to realize is rather important, and that gap in information is always weird.

    I forgot to mention reinforcing "voluntary" attention on walks! I have talked about it on walk-specific posts, though, so I'll leave it where it lies ;)

    I'm not a good photographer, but I sometimes catch great looks on her face!