If I was ever held at gunpoint and ordered to give one piece of dog training advice to fix an unknown dog’s unknown behaviour problem, I know exactly what I would say.
No matter why I have been called in to see a dog, I always end up giving this piece of advice, because it solves such a wide variety of behaviour problems. Want to know what it is?
Reward Eye Contact
Just give your dog treats, praise, pats, and play time every time your dog glances up at you.
Sound silly? Try it for a day and you’ll see what an amazing difference it makes.
For one day, carry your dog’s favourite treats, or better yet your dog’s entire day’s worth of meals, in your pocket. EVERY time your dog happens to glance at you, say “yes! Good!” and offer food, and then give him or her lots of love.
At first you may need to encourage your dog to look at you. Most dogs are in the habit of looking at other things – trees, the food bowl, cats, fire hydrants. You might need to make kissy noises or jump around to get your dog to glance in your direction. But as soon as they do, no matter how quick of a glance it is, throw a party.
By the end of the day, your dog will be following you around, staring constantly into your face.
What does that mean?
Well, it means that your dog is not trying to chew your shoes or break into the garbage or urinate behind the sofa. It means that your dog is not pulling your arm off on walks. In fact, your dog is now walking in a beautiful heel position at your side.
That’s right – just rewarding your dog for looking at you will make them fall into a lovely heel position as you walk.
It makes sense if you think about it. When you go for a walk with a friend, do you walk one behind the other? Of course not. You can’t see each other’s faces, which is a huge part of normal human conversation. So if you and your dog are talking and walking and looking each other in the face, your dog is going to want to walk next to you.
Suddenly, your dog is walking WITH you instead of being walked BY you. Suddenly, your dog realizes that you are a friend who wants to talk. Suddenly, you become the most interesting thing around.
Eye contact doesn’t fix everything. It doesn’t fix separation anxiety, or a fear of nail trims, for example.
But if your dog is looking at you, your dog won’t notice the scary men with hats or the other dogs that normally cause havoc on walks.
If your dog is looking at you and eating from your hand, resource guarding the food bowl becomes a non-issue.
If your dog is looking at you and waiting for food, then your dog is ready to work, and ready to learn. And that is the first step for virtually every behaviour problem there is.
So reward your dog for looking at you, and keep it up. Because it’s the first step to a better, happier relationship