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. As the dog builds stronger duration and distance capability, you will be able to continue your work in more distracting environments.
This command not only works on chewing on shoes, but can also be used for barking, jumping up, rushing the door and even aggression with dogs and people. In all situations watch me becomes your main way to refocus your dog’s attention from something you don’t like back to you, so that you can then ask for and build the habit of a behaviour you do like.
Many times I hear “My dog does not want to look at my face.” Let’s face it, watch me can be a pretty strange idea to a dog. Think about it, what does it mean when two dogs lock eyes and don’t “blink”? That’s right, it’s a challenge; and some anxious, shy or I guess even aggressive and fearful dogs may not want to participate in this cue. Let me be clear…if you’re dealing with aggression I don’t recommend you trying this by yourself; call a trainer or behaviourist.
Do not risk challenging an aggressive dog. That being said, the best time to teach watch me is as a puppy. The tabula rasa or blank slate will make this much easier. All commands and cues are easier to teach before bad habits start, and if all owners did this I would be out of a job, but business is still good.
Don’t worry though, even an older dog or one with baggage can learn watch me. But let me warn you, it won’t be hard on the dog…but it may be more difficult for you. Let me clarify, it really isn’t harder, but it will require patience; and many dog owners seem to think patience and difficult are the same thing. Remember to relax and go slow.
If the dog will only glance at you with the treat, start there, and work towards a more reliable watch me. It might take a lot of time, but trust me, it will be worth it.
A quick hint on clickers…if your dog is scared of the clicking noise, don’t worry. Use a click style pen which is a much softer noise, and then gradually move to a clicker. And if you always have to use a pen, who cares? Chances are, you always have a pen with you so it’s an easy substitute.
So what have we learned?
• Watch me should be one of the first commands taught
• Simply getting your dog’s attention away from a bad behaviour is the start to fixing that behaviour
• Watch me is a great way to teach your dog to keep attention on you
• You cannot stop with the cue alone, you must replace the bad with an alternate one. Remember - Ignore The Bad and Reward The Good
• As with all dog training, go slow, be patient and relax. This command could be the cornerstone to you and your dog having a better relationship
About The Author
Mike Deathe is a professional dog trainer and writer. He kindly shares his wisdom with K9 Magazine from time to time.