Eye contact is taught to gain some measure of control over a dog. It is impossible for your dog to jump, bark, spin, etc. if he is maintaining eye contact. By making eye contact a highly rewarding thing to do, it settles the dog down enough to be able to work with him. Eye contact is not something that comes naturally to most dogs. In fact many are very uncomfortable making eye contact with anyone, canine or human. Therefore to teach it we need to break it down into small steps. Do not move to the next step until your dog is ready. You must have your dogs attention to teach them anything and the best way to keep their attention is to have eye contact from them. Eye contact is a completely voluntary action by your dog and the only help we give them to learn it, is to reward the correct action. We do not give a command to watch or yell at them for incorrect actions. ALWAYS KEEP A VERY PLEASANT LOOK ON YOUR FACE WHEN WORKING ON EYE CONTACT. No one, including your dog wants to make eye contact with someone who is scowling. If your dog is very shy or small you can get down on the floor, so your not looming over your dog.
Step 1: We want to teach that the word “yes” is the most awesome word they will ever hear: Say “yes” and give a small piece of treat, say “yes” again and give a treat, say “yes” again and give a treat. Do this over and over until your dogs ears start to prick every time he hears the word “yes”. When this happens you are ready for step 2.
Step 2: Take a piece of food, show it to your dog by placing it in front of his nose and letting him sniff it, immediately move the food away, moving your arm so it is fully extended out from your side. Your dogs instinct will be to look at your hand, that’s okay for now, just wait him out. The instant he looks away from the food say “yes” and give him the treat. Repeat this over and over until your dog barely glances at the food before looking away. Once he can do this, he is ready for step 3.
Step 3: This is exactly the same as step 2, except this time, do not say “yes until the dog looks into your eyes. If he keeps looking at the treat in your hand, wait him out. Don’t say his name, just wait, he will start looking around and sooner or later he will look at you. THAT’S when you say “yes” and give him the treat. The instant he does, say “yes and reward. It may take him a few times to figure out the rule has suddenly changed. That’s okay, just wait him out. If your dog starts jumping at the treat, don’t yell at him, just put the treat behind your back, and then bring it out again. If he barks, do the same thing, the treat “goes away” behind your back, then bring it back out and try again, and KEEP ON SMILING, he hasn’t done anything wrong —HE’S JUST ACTING LIKE A DOG!!! Don’t help the dog figure out what you want by saying his name or making noise or waving the treat around to get his attention.
As your dog gets better at making eye contact, begin to lengthen the time you require him to keep the contact before you say “yes”. Make sure you change hands instead of always holding the treat in the same hand.
Up to this point we are not concerned about what the dogs body is doing, as he gets better at eye contact you can start adding things like sits and downs. It is not important for your dog to sit in front of you, he can stand, sit, or lay down, if he wants. Once we get really good eye contact we can work on everything else.
Timing is one of the most critical things you must learn in obedience training. You have to learn to time your “yes” to the moment your dog looks at you. If you wait, he may already be looking away. After he has learned that he is getting rewarded for looking at you, you can delay saying “yes” for a second or two, to get longer eye contact.
Make sure your dog is really giving eye contact. Many dogs will try to outsmart you by looking at your nose, chin, or forehead instead of your eyes. Make sure he is making eye to eye contact with you. Stand up straight (body language is VERY IMPORTANT) and SMILE!!
You can use eye contact when your dog wants out, wants to be petted, wants to play, wants to go for a walk, in fact, make your dog give eye contact for anything he wants. He will learn that giving eye contact is VERY REWARDING.
As your dog becomes better at giving eye contact, you can start increasing the amount of time he must look at you. Teach this very slowly, a second or two longer at a time is more than enough. AND KEEP SMILING!!.