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Deaf Dog Training: Eye contact and focus

One big thing I hear from new deaf dog owners is “my dog doesn’t look at me or won’t pay attention to me so I can’t teach it signs!”

From the dogs point of view, why would it look at you? There are toys, smells, sights, and so many things that are more exciting than you. So really, why would your dog look at you?


(Pictured is Hamilton, deaf, border/aussie)



Good news is, we can teach our dogs that looking at us is a good thing and fun at that!

When you’re working with a deaf dog, we need the dog to know to look to you for direction, not just in the house, but outside, or at the park as well.

To play this “game” your dog will need to have and understand a marker sign.

To start, we will play in the house. When teaching a dog a new behavior, we want to start in an environment with minimal distractions. If your house is super busy, go into a bedroom or less busy area to build reinforcement history without distractions.

Part one:


-Grab a hand full of treats/kibble (when working in the house initially, kibble may be enough, but when moving to different areas you may need to utilize higher value treats, like chicken or hotdogs!)

-Stand still (be a tree!) and wait for your dog to look at you. We want your dog to look to you on your own vs. you doing something to encourage the behavior. The second your dog looks at you, mark and reward.

-The first few times you do this, it may take your dog a few minutes to look at you, that’s ok, wait them out!

-Do this until you’re hand full runs empty!


Part two:

-Grab another hand full of treats.

-Once your dog understands looking at you, start taking a few steps around the room. Your dog may not understand at first, but again just wait for that eye contact.

-Mark and reward the moment your dog looks at you.

-Move a few steps again and wait for your dog to orient to you and give eye contact.

-Continue until you’re treats run out!




Part three:

-Grab your hand full of treats.

-Wait for eye contact, mark, and toss your treat away from you. This is setting your dog up to make the choice to come back to look at you!

-When the dog eats the treat and turns back to you, wait for eye contact, mark, and toss your treat!




Part 4:


-Grab your treats

-Now we will combine part two and three.

-Wait for eye contact, mark, toss your treat. While your dog goes out to get the treat, take a few steps.

-Once the dog gets the treat and comes back, wait for eye contact, mark, toss the treat and take a few steps.


Make sure to practice this in tons of different environments so that your dog can be successful in looking at you in all places, not just the house!

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