When Your Dog Listens as Well as Your Husband

I may or may not be right on this one, but I am pretty sure that dogs have better hearing than we do and yet we have the hardest time getting them to check in with us. Seriously, it’s so embarrassing when our dog checks out like a fan watching a football game.

So, question of the day is: HOW DO I GET MY DOG TO LISTEN?

To get your dog’s attention it’s all about reinforcement and repetition of that reinforcement. Think about this: you want a smoking hot body. You do everything right with your diet, but you still have to burn the fat and tone the muscle. In order to build the muscle, you must do repetitions of weight lifting, yoga poses, etc. You cannot and will not gain a toned body with one rep.

It’s the same with dog training. You cannot reinforce something once and think you have it. As the saying goes, “Go big or go home” with dog training, you must heavily reinforce to see results. Once the behavior is built, you can maintain a behavior rather than build it. When you are at the point of maintaining, you will not need to reinforce in the amount you were before.

Check Ins

Make it your mission in life (now I am getting serious) to reinforce all eye contact.

Every time you see your dog look at you (even out of his peripheral) mark it by saying “good” or your clicker and reinforce with food or praise. Do not expect a romantic gaze at this point as this will not happen. Watch for micro looks; tiny little eye movements. These looks are so fast that they almost don’t look like a look at first. The “look” behavior will start small, with even a quick flick of his eye toward you (does not have to be at your face/eyes, just you in general). As you continue to work on this exercise, you will gain duration (longer looks).

Do this exercise throughout the day: when your dog is leashed on a walk, when you are cooking in your kitchen or doing your thing around the house. Watch him like a hawk for any sort of eye movement toward you.

Say My Name, Say My Name

When Boy hears his name, his head flings so fast toward me I worry for his spine’s safety. You want this reaction; the behavior so engrained it becomes muscle memory. For a quick review of muscle memory: your body remembers specifics so you don’t have to think about it. Example: picking up a gallon of milk. Have you ever picked up an empty gallon out of the fridge that you thought (because you really weren’t paying attention) was full and it went flying up? Well, that, my friend, is muscle memory. Your brain remembered how much strength it would take to pick up a full gallon of milk.

Your goal with training the following exercise will be to get your dog so conditioned to turning toward you when he hears his name, it’s done before he even has time to think about it.

Start this Exercise Indoors

  • Take a handful of treats
  • Say your dog’s name (ONE TIME, PEOPLE! This is important because you want him to respond the first time you say his name, not the third or fifth.)
  • As soon as you see his neck (the neck moves before the head) start to move toward you, mark with “good” or click
  • Throw the reward treat away from you so you can easily repeat another repetition because he’s looking away

Work hard on this for the next two weeks and you will be well on your way for a dog that listens. The husband on the other hand, well, I am a dog trainer not a miracle worker. 😉




Michelle Huntting
Building the bridge of communication between dogs and pet guardians 

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