I have looked into your eyes with my eyes.
I have put my heart near your heart.
~ Pope John XXIII
A lot is made about “training” your dog’s eyes to look into yours when you are working together. Some schools use force to demand it, many have special “attention” classes to create it.
I have to admit there was time in my training when I did the same thing. I went crazy on making sure my dogs eyes were on me at least to start each exercise and for many obedience routines throughout the entire exercise.
But then it struck me several years into this thing called dog training. Imagine if you were performing a task and someone forced you to focus your gaze on a particular spot for an extended period of time. Now if that “spot” was say piece of chocolate cake (vegan of course) or say two puppies playing with glee sure we could do it. But imagine if it was something you just had no interest in looking at, or worse yet you were a little afraid what then?
Your dog’s focus for work or for you, like every other effective action in our lives, must be inspired. Look at those discovered stars with the amazing voices that appear on those reality TV shows, at the end of their performances no one needs to tell the audience to applaud, the performance has inspired a standing ovation and tears from many. Those Olympians that work at their skills 5 hours a day, never considering any of it anything less than part of their routine because they are taking “inspired action”. Effective action to stop smoking, lose weight or keep a tidy bedroom or home can’t be bribed or forced, that kind of coercion creates only short-lived action.
Attention from our dogs, just like any other effectively created response, needs to come from a place of inspiration. We need to earn their desire to focus on their work, or if appropriate us. No one has to force a dog to watch a squirrel dancing across the backyard.
Attention from the dog is a by-product resulting from effective, inspired training rather than a single response that requires “training.”
When you get it right your dog will never want to take his eyes off of you and you will have to create a new response; that of inspired focus forward towards something else!
Fun with the Pictures
Can you guess which one of my dogs are which in these pictures? I took all of these pictures this morning. DeCaff & Feature will be easy, Buzz & Swagger may be more difficult. It made me a bit sad when I was posting these to see that Encore at 8 years old is already going grey around the eyes and Buzz at 16 is still not. Then I thought about it and I guess it makes sense when you know each dog’s personality. All of Encore’s life she has taken on every emotional or physical battle I dealt with while Buzzy has lived his life like a college frat boy at a party impatiently waiting for them to tap the next kegger!
Today I (and your dogs) am grateful for everyone taking inspired action in their dog training.