Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Making eye contact with your dog enhances communication, which is necessary for both training and bonding purposes. Some time ago, it was believed that full eye contact issued a challenge, but today, more positive, modern-based training methods actually encourage it.
The importance of giving eye contact cannot be emphasized enough if your goal is to have a dog that trusts you and follows your directions.
Understanding Why Eye Contact Is Important
When I met my first client, his dog, a Golden Retriever mix known by the name of ''Tori,'' had no clue about eye contact. Tori needed to learn basic commands and I had a week to polish up her skills before she was sent with her owner to a new military installation.
Before teaching her how to make eye contact, I could not get ''through'' to her. All the exercises I was telling her to do fell on ''deaf ears." Once eye contact was established, everything went smoothly from there and at the end of the week, Tori understood sit, lie down, stay, and stopped pulling on the leash.
The main goal is, therefore, to open up the lines of communication between you and your dog. Upon asking a dog a command, you need your dog's attention first, and then you can verbally announce the command and ask the dog to go ahead and do it. When these communication lines are open, you are more likely to obtain results.
Eye Contact Opens the Lines of Communication
How to Teach Eye Contact in Dogs
There are several ways to teach a dog to make eye contact. If your dog is not used to giving you eye contact, it may take some time.
With these exercises, your dog will learn how to give it on command. Make sure you equip yourself with the tastiest treats, such as slices of low-sodium hot dogs, freeze-dried liver, or chopped up steak. Ask your vet about what treats to use if your dog has a medical condition.
One way to teach eye contact is to make a noise your dog finds attractive. This could be a whistle, a pop with your mouth, or a smacking, kissy noise may work.
Make the noise, and as soon as the dog looks up to you, bring the treat to your eye level and feed it to your dog. After a few tries, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with the treat and will naturally start looking up at you more and more often. If you prefer, you can also use a verbal cue such as "watch."
Personally, I prefer a sound because it's more reliable considering that it's not prone to different fluctuations as our words do. With time, your dog will learn to directly look into your eyes upon request.
Train the Airplane Game
If you want to bring this training up a notch, you can practice the ''airplane exercise." Basically, have your dog sit in front of you and keep one arm out to the side with a treat. The dog will likely look at your arms, but be patient, and wait until the dog looks into your eyes. When he does, bring the treat to your mouth and feed it to the dog.
Later, try to keep both arms distended and try the same exercises. As the dog gets good at this, you can ask for longer and longer periods of attention. These exercises will teach your dog that this behavior is pleasant, and from now on, training will be easier because you will have your dog's full attention.
Eye contact can range from a few seconds to minutes, much like when dogs are trained in competition heeling. Competition heeling requires the dog to walk with its head high looking into the owner's eyes for several minutes. Any average owner may also use brief episodes of heeling with eye contact to their advantage when they must walk their dogs in crowded areas full of distractions.
Eye contact is also great for fearful dogs. Dogs may, therefore, surpass other dogs, children, and crowds ignoring these distractions while keeping full focus on the owner. Of course high-value treats are required for areas of high distraction.
As seen, eye contact is fundamental for training dogs and building up trust. Eye contact may make training easier and dogs may also feel reassured just by looking at the owner for a brief period.
One of the most satisfying moments of dog training is when the dog is unsure of what to do and looks straight at the owner's eyes for directions- at this point we know the dog trusts the owner and is literally asking for guidance.
Some particularly fearful dogs may not like eye contact as it is perceived as intimidating. If you are dealing with a dog who becomes aggressive upon making eye contact, seek the advice of a dog behaviorist.
Attention Heeling From a Lab I Fostered
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Adrienne Farricelli
Larry Fields from Northern California on January 25, 2012:
Thanks, alexadry. Your hub was helpful in resolving a question that I had just asked a couple of days ago. Voted up and more.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on April 25, 2011:
My Puppy Girl regularly makes eye contact with me, and always has, but if I try to hold her gaze too long, she will yawn and turn her head.
Now I have her sit on a nearby rug while I put her food dish on the stand. Then I say, "Look at Mama", and she looks directly at me. She knows I want her to relax, so she does. I wait until I'm sure she's "chilled", then say, "Okay, you can have it now." She doesn't take her eyes from mine until I say that. I think that's so cool!
Now I will incorporate the eye contact into further "re-training", especially the re-call.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on October 26, 2010:
I'm so glad to read that the philosophy about eye contact with dogs has changed. Since I was a toddler we've always had dogs as pets. As a child I often engaged in staring contests with our dogs and sometimes I even won! They have expressive eyes that reveal so much about what they're thinking.
Thanks for your articles about dogs. They're always enjoyable!
Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on October 25, 2010:
I always have love reading your fantastic hubs, and this one has a special meaning for me. My black toy poodle taught me to have eye contact. He looks right up and you and always has since she was a baby. She loves to be talked to and it really seems that she undstands many things I say, however she is special. My car is different, it looks at me more and more as time goes on, but is there a way to get a cat to get eye contact. Awesome hub, thumbs up, I hope you will read some of my hubs. Darski
ftclick on October 25, 2010:
Well this was very helpful. I wonder how to do this with abused dogs that keep their tails between their legs. I hate to see that b/c I know what happened to the dog.
Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on October 25, 2010:
Great article. Thanks for sharing..
valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on October 24, 2010:
My dogs have always made eye contact with me regularly. I guess we started out that way, so it never changed. But then my females also came and got me to be with them while they gave birth. Now they are spayed, but looking at me for direction is a regular occurance with my four canines. Good article. (:v