Question: My poodle puppy, Jade, seems to have an attention deficit disorder! It is very difficult to get her to focus, and she hardly ever looks me in the eye. I have tried using a ‘Look at me!’ command, but I just end up frustrated and Jade looks miserable. Am I making too much of this?
Amy’s answer: When we watch dog shows on TV, like the upcoming Westminster Kennel Club show, we see gorgeous, attentive dogs raptly looking up at their handlers’ faces. You can achieve a measure of that connection with your puppy without the countless hours of rehearsal by using a high-value toy and play sessions to gain her eye contact. Pull a brand-new toy out of a bag as if you are revealing something wonderful. Trail it behind you playfully, just out of her reach until she is chasing it willingly. Now turn toward her and bring it up to your face and say, “Watch!” If she looks up even for a split-second, toss the toy on the floor as her reward and praise her. Be careful to do this only in play for now, and avoid bending over her. Leaning over looks to Jade like an overly dominant posture coming from you and she will turn away, so stand up very straight. Keep this command light and breezy, and if she doesn’t look at you, just move on and try again after more play. Praise for eye contact should be instant and result in an immediate reward, whether it is a unique treat like a piece of chicken or cheese that she normally doesn’t get, or a fabulous new toy, or just a stick picked up from the lawn. Find out what turns her on and use that to your advantage.
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