The “Mother, May I?” Exercise

So you have a new dog or foster dog now and are wondering what to teach first! The first exercise I work on is eye contact.  This is taught as an " auto-check in" and is often paired with a sit. By " auto-check in," I mean you do not tell the dog to look at you.  The behaviour is offered or generated by the dog independent of direction by the trainer. This simple exercise can solve so many behaviour problems, just by itself! If my dog is sitting and looking at me then she can't be dashing out my front door or jumping up on a guest. There are two ways to teach this exercise and you will use both. First, have yummy treats ready, now watch your dog. When you catch her looking in your direction or right at you, Mark it with a single "YES!" then give the treat. We call this capturing the behaviour. Wait and watch, then mark and treat! Try to practice this in different positions, sitting, standing, lying down and while in motion. This applies to the dog as well as the human! It's important that we DO NOT NAME this behaviour at first. Let it become a habit. We want the dog to think, "When in doubt, check in with my human for guidance and direction!"  The second way we teach eye contact is more direct. Get yummy treats and take your dog to a quiet place. Hold a treat close to her nose then pull the treat up to your temple. When your dog looks up, Mark it with "YES!" then give treat. Repeat, rapid fire, for 5 to 10 times. Now start the same way touching treat to your dog's nose then instead of holding it up to your temple, quickly put treat behind your back and watch your dog. Your dog should quickly look up at your face! When she does, Mark with "YES!" then treat!  Repeat 10 times. If at any point you need to go back a step then do so. But remember we are striving to get the treats out of sight as quickly as possible. We can use eye contact as a doggie version of the classic, "Mother, May I?" question. Start waiting for your dog to give you eye contact before you give a treat or toy or even open a door for her. Before long, your dog will be checking in with you often! That's all for now!  Have fun working on eye contact and next time we will talk a bit about separation anxiety! Until then, happy training and remember to keep those tails wagging!

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