It’s called Up & Down as that’s what we’re asking the dog to do, head down to find a treat dropped on the floor then look up at us to make eye contact and we reward that eye contact by dropping another treat for the dog to find and eat.
As we are just starting out – practice this exercise indoors first in an area free from distractions. Whenever you teach a new skill, always do it in this easy place first before practicing in different places.
This is one of the simplest and most effective games for teaching your dog that making eye contact with you is a good thing. Two things to remember with this exercise, say ‘Find-It’ as the dog is sniffing on the ground looking for the treat and then say ‘Yes’ when the dog looks up at you – this gives the dog direct feedback that it was looking up at us that is being rewarded.
Saying ‘Yes’ like this is what’s called a reward ‘Marker’. Understanding that ‘marking’ the moment your dog performs the desired action is so important in dog training. If you omit the marker word and just feed a treat you are not actually communicating to the dog what it is they did that earned the treat and often the dog will not associate the reward with what you were hoping – they are highly likely to try to move / jump towards the hand holding the treat and think they are being rewarded for that and you risk encouraging your dog to grab at or jump for food.
Practice this exercise using 10 treats / pieces of your dog’s normal food 3 times a day for a week. Sit or kneel on the floor so you make it easy for your pup to look at you. Once you’ve practiced a few times you can start practicing standing up. Notice how I keep the food behind me and reward from either hand randomly.
Doing this at meal times using your dog’s normal food is a great idea. Measure out the food and then use it for the exercises and at the end you can just scatter what’s left on the ground for your dog to find. Dog’s love to work for their food, they are naturally good problem solvers and love to use their thinking skills to work out how to get you to give them the food!
Why do I recommend you use a clicker?
On the other hand:
Before you can use the clicker for training you need to teach your dog what the clicker means to him. This is known as "Loading” or “Charging” the clicker.
To load the clicker, simply click the clicker and give your dog a treat. If you repeat this frequently, your dog will soon learn to associate the click with a reward. Don't worry if your dog is initially startled by the click - once he or she realises treats come after the click, (s)he will adjust to the noise.
You will need at least a handful of treats or your dogs regular food (dinner is perfect), since you will be practicing this over and over.
Repeat this three times a day for a week. Vary the amount of time that you hold the treat in your hand before using the clicker so that your dog does not begin to expect when the treat will come.
If your dog wants to sniff and try to get at the treat, keep your hand closed and wait until he loses interest in the treat before clicking again.
I also recommend you download and have a read of this excellent handout about Clicker Training!
Not only does ‘Sit & Watch Me’ improve your dog’s attention, it’s also a fundamental behaviour useful in many day-to-day situations and it’s very straightforward to train.
Sitting and watching can replace jumping on people, begging at the table, pulling on the lead to get to things and barking at people and other dogs to name just a few.
Our goal is for the dog to sit still, make and maintain eye contact with us. It’s also a pre-requisite skill for beginning Stay training.
Training ‘Sit & Watch Me’:
In an area free from distractions and with a hungry dog:
If he gets up at any time it’s really important that you start again from 1, 1-2, 1-2-3 etc.
Repeat this process in every room in your house and then go practice in the garden and try out on a walk too as long as it’s quiet and there are no other dogs around which would make it too hard for the current level of training. When practicing outside you may find some extra juicy treats will help get things started!
Try to fit in two or three short sessions a day.