The K9 Companion class began as an entry level training course for dogs that are 6 months or older. The concepts, however, can be used for all ages of dogs including puppies. The class introduces you to reward-based training techniques that will help you communicate to your dog a basic vocabulary of commands and will strengthen the bond you have with your dog to help make him or her a better house companion. Please review all the weeks because information in latter weeks make be useful immediately. Certainly there are various sequences in which the exercises may be taught and you should do what works best for you and your K9 Companion.

The Eye Contact Game

To train your dog, you must have his attention. If you reward him for attention, he will be constantly looking to you for treats and then you can begin to train him. So here’s what to do.

1. Start with your dog seated in front of you.
2. Show the dog the treat (this becomes the "signal" to watch).
3. Move the treat out to your side at an arm's length or less.
4. When the dog's eyes follow the treat, do nothing. He may stare at it for a long time.
5. Sooner or later, he will wonder what's up with this, and look at you.
6. The instant his eyes meet yours, say YES and hand him the treat.

You must pinpoint the instant he looks at you, because he might instantly look away again. That's why you use the verbal reward marker, YES. It's important that you don't move your hand to give him the treat before you MARK the behavior you wanted which is EYE CONTACT. His eyes will be on that treat again if you move your hand. That's ok, though if you've already marked the desired behavior.

Repeat steps 1 - 6 again. Notice he's not sure if he should look at you or the treat (especially if you had bad timing when you said YES). He may glance back and forth quickly with his eyes between you and the treat. Be very patient. Some dogs are persistent about staring at the treat. They must learn that this behavior NEVER gets them the reward. The payoff is in looking to you.

Next time, wait a half-second before marking his attention. Require that he look at your eyes steadily for a brief moment before marking and reinforcing the behavior. Each time you play the game, wait a little longer and a little longer before you mark the behavior by counting the seconds in your head. Just smile and look back at him. If he looks away too soon, you can break off the game and look away, too. Then start over and when he looks at you, begin counting again.

When your dog will look at you for an eternity, begin adding small distractions, and require him to pay attention, even though there might be something else going on. After he has looked at you for several seconds, move your hand. If he breaks eye contact to look at the hand, start counting all over again. He will learn to stop falling for your "tricks." He will learn that the fastest way to get a treat is to ignore everything else, and focus only on you.