How To Teach Your Dog “Look At Me” & Why
Getting a new puppy is a lot like sitting down to paint a new canvas. You have a pretty good idea about what you want your art to look like, but have a hard time figuring out where to start. The same can be said for dog training. You want to teach them all sorts of things like sit, stay, off, down, and maybe even something flashy like “sit pretty.” However, you’re going to have a tough time if you can’t get your dog’s attention or focus on you.
When training your dog, the first thing you should teach them is “Look at me”. This command is a solid foundation for training and will give you an opportunity to really communicate with your dog.
“Look at me” might sound a bit strange as you’re probably thinking commands like “come” or “sit” should be the first to be taught. However, once taught, “Look at me” can be combined with a variety of situations in which having your dog’s attention could be highly beneficial. Teaching “Look at me” to your dog as the first step of their training journey is an easy and fool-proof way to get your dog used to listening to you and following the commands they are given in the future.
How To Teach “Look At Me”
Getting your dog’s attention during training or in your day-to-day life is one of the most essential and beneficial skills you can have, as this allows you to establish a strong line of communication with your dog. In the beginning, it can be frustrating to ask your dog to do something and have them either look the other way or be confused by what you are asking. Teaching the “Look at me” command as the first part of your training regimen will give you the ability to get your dog’s attention focused back on you in even the most distracting or unsure situations.
To begin, hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose. Bring the treat to your face and hold it right between your eyes. The moment your dog makes eye contact with you, say “Look at me” followed by “Yes!” and give them the treat. Repeat this several times so that your dog begins to correlate that looking at you equals a yummy treat.
After several successes, remove the lure from their nose to your eyes and simply ask your dog for the “Look at me” command. You may have to wait a moment as they will search for the treat in your hand or nearby. The moment they make eye contact, reward them with a “Yes!” and a treat.
A great way to solidify this command in the early stages is to combine a Clicker with the verbal cue “Yes!”. Using the clicker, simply press down at the same time to create a dependable click noise at the same time as your verbal praise. At times, our voice inflection can change and can be confusing for our dogs to understand. Having a solid click sound coupled with our “Yes!” is an easy way to let your dog know that they will be receiving a treat when they hear a click, “Yes!”, or a combination of both.
“Leave It & Look At Me” Combo
Now that you can get your dog’s attention on command, you can integrate this into “leave it” training as well. Think about it like this: your dog is engaging in a behavior such as barking at people walking by. You both want your dog to stop that behavior and focus on you instead of the distraction. So, you can generalize teaching “leave it” things other than food or objects.
To teach “leave it”, check out my full article with steps and distractions here. Once you’ve got that covered, you can ask for “leave it” followed by “look at me.” This is great because you are rewarding your dog for their attention. Leaving something is great, but getting their eyes on you solidifies that they are no longer interested in the distraction because you are more important.
In practice, this would look like walking down the road. Your dog stops to sniff a piece of trash. You say “leave it”, and once your dog stops paying attention to the trash, say “look at me.” As you go, you can say this all in one phrase but it’s important for your dog to know what each command means separately. You can use this with barking at people while walking, chasing cats, smelling gross things on the ground, dropped food in the kitchen, etc. Directly your dog back to you is your goal.
Starting training can be a daunting task, especially when it comes time to establish a true line of communication between you and your dog. The “Look at me” command is a great way to set up that relationship as, no matter the circumstances, your dog will know to check back in with you through eye contact. When your dog is looking at you, you have their full attention, which can be essential in a safety situation or training opportunity.