Wait for Eye Contact
The best piece of advice that I can give for you and your fur child’s relationship is to wait for eye contact before letting your dog do anything appealing or exciting. This simple exercise will change the entire dynamic of your relationship because, ultimately, your dog will learn that all good and wonderful things are accessed by first looking to you for approval. Not only does this exercise help to develop structure and leadership skills, but you will also be teaching your dog impulse control and good manners.
One of the easiest ways to begin this exercise is at mealtime. Rather than scooping your pup’s food right into the bowl on the floor (or worse, leaving their food out all day!), pick up the bowl and put the food in.
While holding the bowl, you may ask your dog for a “sit” and then wait for eye contact. A good practice (and one that I use every day) is after setting the bowl on the floor; I encourage my dog to wait before releasing her to eat.
If they are heavily focused on the bowl before you even get a chance to set it down, pick it back up to your chest and ask for the “sit” again. If this is a new exercise for your dog, expect this process to take time.
For your first rep, the most important thing is the initial eye contact; as soon as you get it, you can reward with the food. Over time though, you will want to build out your duration as well as your distance.
With time and practice, you will work your way up to being able to set the bowl on the floor while your pup remains seated, looking longingly into your eyes for their release word to chow down on their favorite meal. Ask for the “sit” and take a step back before you set it down. Next session, take two steps back. Continue this process until you can set the bowl down on the other side of the room. My release word is “okay!” Your word can be whatever you like, but another common favorite is “break.” Once your dog understands the release word, you will copy and paste this process to other areas of their daily routine.
Eye Contact Translates Into Impulse Control
Does your dog rush out the door first when getting ready for your walk? Not anymore!
Before you open the front door, ask your pup for a “sit” and wait for that eye contact. It is not uncommon for your dog to think it can rush out once you open the door; however, with the new skill you both just learned, you will begin to ask more from them.
Once you open that door, if Sparky breaks his sit, you will immediately shut the door and start over. Do this as often as it takes for them to understand that they must remain in the “sit”. When you can open the door with them in a “sit”, you will look for that eye contact again. As soon as your dog makes eye contact, you can release them through the door.
For this exercise, I will allow you to let your dog out the door ahead of you. However, the ultimate goal is to be able to ask your dog for a “sit,” open the door while they remain sitting, you then walk out of the door, and then welcome your dog out with you immediately, following up with a heel position.
Consistency is Key
If your dog is making all their decisions willy-nilly, why would it need to listen to you? Do they jump on and off the furniture without your permission? Do they pee wherever they want on your walks? Take some time to practice this drill. Wait for eye contact. It can be frustrating and tedious, but it is worth the effort.
Imagine you are sitting on the sofa. Lassie comes up to the edge of the couch and looks you right in the eye for approval. You look back at her and say, “Okay, girl!” And she hops up next to you on the couch. What a skilled dog trainer you are! Imagine opening the front door to get the mail, and your dog doesn’t bolt out the door. You will be preparing for these outcomes by teaching impulse control and good manners!
Do you and your dog need extra guidance in impulse control or other problem areas? Click here to get started on private 1-on-1 training lessons with OC Pup Scouts trainer Evan!