By Kathy Santo | Updated: Mar 26 2019
Imagine having your dog so well trained that he can enter a television studio with 279 people that he’s never met before sitting 25 feet away from him (or closer), a dozen or so more walking close by, cameras rolling towards him that are twice the height of a person and a few thousand overhead lights thrown in. But yet, on command he can perform whatever he’s been asked to do perfectly.
As someone who’s been on television in front of live studio audiences many times (with my dogs and those of my students!), I’m very familiar with the level of attention that needs to happen for a successful experience. At every appearance, the dogs were relaxed and happily focused on me, and not the extremely distracting environment.
In your dreams, you think? As I’ve told my students more times than I can count: “Raise the bar, people!” Although your dog may never be under the bright lights of a TV studio, teaching him a command that will get you his undivided attention is an extremely important. Imagine being able to instantly summon your dog to be 100% focused and attentive, no matter what’s going on around you. Having trouble imagining the real-life application of this command? How about when you’re walking your highly prey-driven dog (read: chases anything that moves) dog and you see a squirrel or cat crossing your path? By asking for his attention and either heeling past or staying still and waiting until it passes, you’ve made life a whole lot easier for both of you. Dogs with a penchant for chasing cars, wanting to engage in games of “staring and stalking”, or for barking at others can be re-directed by using the “Watch me” command. And that’s a big part of what dog training is all about – redirecting your dog so that you reward him for doing what you WANT him to do instead of constantly fussing at him for always being wrong.
Any dog, at any age, can learn this command. Plan a training session for when your dog is hungry, lonely and/or bored so he’ll be interested in the game. Go to a distraction-free area (for now) and put your dog on a leash. Have a supply of your dog’s favorite treats or, if he’s not a food-motivated dog, his favorite toy to use as a motivator.
For puppies or small dogs you have a choice – you can either kneel on the floor or you can put your dog up on a grooming table (taking care to hold onto the leash in case of a potential bungee jump!). Larger puppies and dogs can sit at your side while you stand.
Have your dog sit at your left side and bring the treat or toy to his nose. Let him sniff it, and maybe even have a nibble. You want him to be very interested in what you have. If he’s not, then choose a different treat or toy.
Next, slowly move the item a few inches to the side of his face, and the second you see his eyes look from the treat to your eyes, say “Yes! Watch” or “Yes! Look”. (Remember – you’re naming the command when he does it correctly, not chanting “watch watch watch” to a dog who is looking away from you), pop the treat into his mouth, while praising him, and immediately release him with “O.K.!” If your dog knows how to tug, this is a great time to play that game with him. My suggestion is to do this 5-10 times per session, keeping in mind that you always want your dog to want to do more. Never train until he’s exhausted! This is where knowing your dog (his work ethic, energy level, motivation, etc.) is essential.
The timing of the reward is a critically important step in the “watch” command. You must get that treat or toy to him as he’s watching you! If you’re moving the reward towards him and he gets distracted and looks away, move the food/toy away again, and wait for him to make eye contact with you before rewarding. If you give him the food while he’s looking away, you’ll have a dog that learns that “watch” means look anywhere but at you.
I know it sounds obvious, but when you’re training and you have to think of eight dozen different things to do at once (the command, the lure, the timing of the reward, the alternate plan if he looks away) the obvious suddenly becomes muddled, and you find yourself doing things much differently than you’d planned. Slow down, be calm and be very, very patient with yourself as well as your dog.
Equally important is the release (“ok!”), because just as he would associate getting a treat while looking away meant that looking away was what you wanted, releasing him when he’s looking away also rewards the behavior. By simultaneously putting the treat in his mouth and praising and then immediately releasing him, you’ll avoid the problem.
After a week or so, your dog is probably ready to move ahead. We’re going to transition to saying “watch” AS the treat is moving away from him instead of waiting for him to choose to look at us. Of course, the dog will still receive a reward when he does the command correctly, but soon we’ll transition off the food/toy as a primary reward, and transition to your verbal praise and a great game of tug. After all, obedience should never be dependent on whether or not you have a great treat in your pocket, or whether or not your dog is hungry or in the mood for his special toy.
(Those of you with small dogs or puppies who started the process sitting or kneeling next to your dog will need to transition to standing up before proceeding. Sitting in a chair is a great bridge between kneeling and standing.)
Next: Have your dog sit in front of you, on leash and close enough so that your knees and his nose are almost touching. Tell him to “Watch”. Praise him when he does.
Take one step to the right, and repeat the command “Watch” If he continues to watch you, reward/praise and release (“O.K.!”).
Build up to taking more than one step to the right, and then try the same thing moving to the left. After that, try the same thing while backing up one step at a time. Keep your dog motivated and enthusiastic by keeping your level of enthusiasm up and using great treats, games and toys as rewards.
If your dog is at this level and does not look at you when you say the command, be sure that you haven’t skipped a step or rushed through the process.
With each session, gradually increase the length of time that you ask your dog to watch you, and add distractions (start mild and work up from there!). Now you’re teaching your dog under which situations you expect him to obey your “Watch Me!” command.
In less time than you think, your dog will be happy to give you his full attention, no matter what the situation. And when people admire your dog but say that their dog ‘could never do that’, you are required to tell them, from me, to “Raise the bar!!”
Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.
In Waldwick, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.