The Eyes Have It – How to get your dog’s attention

Eye contact – it’s how humans are assured that someone is paying attention, it’s what we want when we say our dog’s name.  How do we get it?

Golden Retriever looks at the camera

Simply make it worthwhile for your dog to look at you when you say his name.  Starting in a quiet place indoors, wait for your dog to look at you, click and treat.  He looks again, click and treat.
In a few short sessions your dog will be offering you eye contact frequently.  Now you can add his name when he looks at you, and then click and treat.
You can drop the treat so he has to break eye contact, try saying his name, and click/treat when he looks at you.  That’s the basics. 

When your dog has mastered the basic level, start asking for eye contact before you open the door to the backyard, before you throw the ball, or before you offer the tug toy.  When he looks at you, say your verbal marker (such as “YES!”) and offer the toy, open the door, or give the life reward.  Soon your pup will offer the eye contact when you pick up the toy or go to the door – that’s what you want!

All photos by Dawn Gilkison

Once your dog is reliably responding to his name at close range inside, start practicing when he is a bit farther away, or when there are distractions present.

  • Say your dog’s name ONCE.
  • No response?  No click/treat.
  • Wait a moment, try again.
  • Aim for a high rate of success.
  • Practice in short sessions.
  • Add distractions OR distance.
  • Click as the dog’s head turns.

This 9-week old puppy is on a mission and would probably not be able to respond to his name in this situation.

puppy pulling away on leash
To get your dog’s attention in a distracting place, drop a treat in front of him, then at your feet, then wait for eye contact and click/treat that.  Realize that you need to train for attention if you want attention.
Positive Solutions Dog Training also provides in-home training in Multnomah and Clackamas counties in Oregon,  and in Vancouver, WA.
Call for more information – 971-255-7466 email

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