Friday, October 8, 2010

The "Look" Command (Bestest Command Ever!)

The look command (also known as "watch me," "attention," or "focus") is usually one of the very first things I like to teach new puppy students. The purpose is simple: you want to be able to say "look" and have your puppy turn her attention to you. She doesn't need to walk to you, sit, or anything else... just... look at you.

It sounds like a silly command, but it is THE ONE command I actually find most valuable. Why?...Because it's perfect for redirecting unwanted behavior.

Here's one example of how it can be used in everyday life: If you're out on a walk and sense something heading your way is likely to upset your dog (say, skateboarders, a cat, another dog, a bicyclist, etc.), you can do the look command, get your puppy to focus on YOU, and, in turn, avoid her focusing on whatever it is you'd rather she not focus on. Once a dog focuses on something, her intensity (and in some cases, anxiety) escalates very quickly, so if you catch it at the start, before there is time for escalation, doing the look command redirects that focus. The command sort of flips a switch in her brain. If you want, you can then follow up with another command like sit, down, or whatever else is appropriate for the situation.

Here's How To Teach The Look Command:
1. Let your dog see that you have a tiny tasty treat.
2. Hold the treat next to your eyes, and say "look" once.
3. Your dog will look towards the treat, making brief eye contact.
4. Immediately reply with your reward phrase (I say "good job") and give her the treat.

Move to another location and repeat. Continue repeating for about 3 minutes. Try to have a 3 minute practice session once or twice daily. Over time, you'll want to have your dog hold her focus for longer periods of time before she gets the reward phrase and treat. It's good to count the seconds off in beats. Remember, at first, the reward is immediate. Then work your way up to one-one-thousand before she gets the treat, then two-one-thousand, and so on. Try to get up to about 3 seconds. As usual with positive reinforcement training, once your dog really has the command down solid, you will be able to begin fading out treats (ask your trainer how to best proceed with the fade-out process.)

Keep in mind that you always want your gaze to be friendly and warm. In dog body language, a direct stare is an aggressive posture... if you stare, or look at her superduper intently, it will probably scare her, and put her on the defensive (or, er, offensive...) Likewise, the point of the look command is not to get her to stare you down, either; it's simply to get her focused. On you. During the look command she may blink, or move her eyes off a bit to the side, then back at you... this is her way of saying "I'm paying attention... and I also want to make it clear that I'm not being aggressive!" (which is, of course, a wonderful thing.) To help dogs feel more at ease during this command, just remember to be natural and blink!

The look command is usually very easy for most dogs to learn. If you're an observant pet parent, you can anticipate what triggers your dog, and then use this command to redirect naughty behaviors in those moments just before they are likely to happen (including barking, jumping, picking up yucky things, etc.) It's also great for when you're taking photos. Try it, and see how it works for you!

For more puppy training tips, please see my quick links in the righthand sidebar.

Matchy Music: