I am an unapologetic user of food when it comes to training my dogs. Jellybean was chosen for his equal love of toys and food. Motivating a dog to work for you by using toys and food as rewards, is one of the simplest ways to teach behaviours we like. However, somewhere in the process of getting to know your new puppy, they need to learn to work for you, just you, not because you’re a treat dispensary. When you un-clip the leash in public and give them the ultimate reward of running free, the only thing you’ll really have to rely on to keep them with you, is your mutual emotional connection.
It’s imperative to me that my dogs know I’m happy with them. At the minute the ONLY time Jellybean has seen me less than pleased, has been when he is rough with my cats. I’m incredibly selective about correction. What I want is for puppy to think I’m amazing, fun, snugly, silly and most of all, that I’m totally and utterly in love with him. Eye contact says ‘I love you’ it says ‘I think you’re the best dog in the whole world and there is nowhere I’d rather be, than here with you. And believe it or not, dogs have evolved to read the emotion in our faces, to connect with us, to stare into our eyes and know we love them. Over time, the feeling becomes mutual. Did you know that feel good chemicals are released when we stare into the eyes of the ones we love? This happens with parents and babies, human partners and dogs and owners also.
But there’s more. One sure way to know if your dog is paying attention to you, is to have him look at you. But it’s not enough-especially when those teenage months kick in-to have eye contact on command. Indeed, for many years now, I’ve not taught the command ‘watch me’ at all. Instead I focus on training voluntary eye contact by setting up situations where the dog gradually learns that ignoring distraction and focusing on me instead, reaps huge rewards for him. So voluntarily checking in is worth his while and at the same time, his focus shifts from other dogs/squirrels/bikes etc.back onto me.
That’s several pretty of good reason to train eye contact as part of your puppy’s interaction with you. It’s simple and it’s fun and it’s mutually beneficial to you both, as all good training should be.