Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Have a nervous dog? Use the "watch me" command!

Liam the pug looking right at me on command
A gigantic dog was barking across the street when I shot this photo.
Liam can be a bit reactive, both on his leash and off the leash. He likes to say hello to everyone he meets, and he loves to run over to check out interesting dogs he hears. He's never been aggressive in any way, but he does tend to buck and pull when he wants to see something, and other people (and dogs) often view this as aggression.

I took Liam to a class to correct the behavior, but quickly realized that this wasn't the greatest idea. Dogs that are reactive on a leash are often BIG dogs and they are often aggressive because they'd like to attack smaller dogs. Asking friendly Liam to be bait for these reactive dogs might have been helpful in the long run, but it wasn't a chance I was willing to take.

Instead, we've been working on a command called "Watch me." Here's how it works.

Liam is asked to sit and look directly at me, no matter what else is going on.

Seems simple, right? And it's an easy one to teach. Just hold a treat at the level of your eyes while you say "Watch Me." When the dog makes eye contact, give the treat. Then, increase the time distance between the look at the treat.

Liam can hold his for about a minute with no cookie. To me, that's really helpful. 

It's a useful way to break him from seeing something, getting anxious to see something and then charging over to check it out in person. Instead, he looks at me and the other person (or dog) has time to walk away before I release him from the command.

The best part? This is a command that's tailor-made for on-the-street tests. It's actually easier to train your dog to do this command when you're out and about than it is to teach it when you're at home in the quiet.

So go ahead! Teach your dog to watch. You'll be glad you did.