Eye contact is a critical part of training. Eye contact builds engagement, and engagement is everything! An engaged dog focuses on the handler and everything else is just background noise.

So how do you build engagement, and how do you keep it?  Knowing when to reward eye contact is a major component to good dog training.

Building eye contact

Eye contact is one of the first things we teach. How do we do it? Through The Name Game. If you’ve done any training, ever, with us, you know that this is something we teach and preach. The Name Game helps teach your dog his/her name and rewards your dog for making eye contact with us.

Not sure how to teach it? Watch this free training video! https://youtu.be/ChjLHz4Xa8c

Note: We’ve since replaced the “Yes” marker with the “Good” marker. Say good instead of yes.

Maintaining eye contact

Once you’ve taught The Name Game, your dog will start offering more eye contact. That’s a good thing. Reward it!

  • When your dog is in front of you and looking at you, mark and reward.
  • When your dog is in heel position and looking at you, mark and reward.
  • When your dog is in a sit/stay and looking at you, mark and reward.
  • When your dog is in a down/stay and looking at you, mark and reward.
  • When your dog is off leash and looks back at you, mark and reward.
  • When your dog makes a good choice and focuses on you instead of a distraction, mark and reward.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down? The key to maintaining engagement through eye contact is to continue rewarding it. It’s that simple! Because if you don’t, the opposite is true. By failing to reward it, it can go extinct meaning that, since it’s no longer rewarded, your dog may deem it no longer valued by you. He’ll think you don’t care about it. And the opposite is true! But if you fail to reward it, he’ll stop offering it.

So yeah, if your dog is staring into your soul, mark and reward. Or, at the very least, say “Good” and pat your dog.

Increasing eye contact

Dogs have choices every day, am I right? Looking at you isn’t always required; and technically, it’s never required, it’s optional. It’s something they choose to do because of the reward history they’ve associated with it. So if you think of it that way, I want you to think of it strategically too.

Knowing how to increase eye contact is key. And how to do it is easy. Mark and reward when your dog makes a good choice.

  • He is in a sit/stay and a dog runs passed him. Instead of getting up, he looks at you. Mark and reward.
  • He is in a down/stay and the door shuts behind him. His ears flicker, but he doesn’t look. Mark and reward.
  • He’s sitting at the door waiting to go outside and he looks at you. Mark and reward!
  • He’s recalling to you and looking straight at you. Praise him!
  • He’s in heel position, and though he struggles with reactivity, he’s choosing to look at you instead of the barking dog walking by. Mark and reward, dang it!!

When your dog makes a good choice, mark and reward. Mark. Reward. It’s soo important! Communication is key.

The only time you don’t want to reward your dog for eye contact is 1) on the place bed and 2) if he is obsessively following you around the house and you’re trying to get him to go do his own thing. That’s it.

Everything else, and especially when your dog’s in Training Mode, don’t be stingy. Mark and reward!!!

Eye contact is everything. Engagement is key. Make sure you’re communicating that you like something with a simple “Good” and a piece of food.

Happy Training!!