If you're a first time dog owner and are scratching your head at the prospect of controlling a member of a different species, this article is for you. 'Watch Me' should be the first command people teach their dogs. Let’s face it, if you don’t have a dog’s attention, teaching them anything else is pretty much futile. This is exactly what watch me is.
I want to teach a dog that, with either a hand signal or a verbal cue (watch me), the dog will stop what he is doing and look me in the face and wait for the next command. Watch me can be used for a variety of reasons, but for me it’s the first step in stopping problem behaviours.
Put simply, dogs rarely can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. So the dog is engaging in a behaviour I don’t like, the first thing I will do is ask for a watch me. For that split second when the dog stops the inappropriate behaviour, I have, in essence, won the battle, but not the war. The war is teaching the dog an alternative behaviour to replace the bad behaviour.
For example, if my dog is chewing on my prize pair of shoes, I will first negatively mark the behaviour (make the EGGHH. noise), then ask for a watch me (to gain attention) and finally ask for a sit (alternative behaviour) to take the place of the chewing of shoes. As many of you know, I truly believe that the smartest trait a dog trainer can have is the ability of ignoring the bad and rewarding the good.
This becomes the first tenet for winning the war of bad behaviour, and watch me becomes the first line of defence for your campaign. So how do I teach my dog this wonderful little trick?
Start with a high value treat, and place it right on the end of your dog’s nose, but don’t let him have it yet. Once you have the dog’s attention, move your hand up towards your face. When your dog looks at you (at this point really looking at the treat) praise (or click, if you are clicker training) and reward.
As the dog becomes more comfortable looking up at your face, begin to shape your verbal and hand signals. I use my index finger pointing at my nose for my hand signal and simply say the words watch me as my verbal cue.
About The Author
Mike Deathe is a professional dog trainer and writer. He kindly shares his wisdom with K9 Magazine from time to time.