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Positive Dog Training

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Chris Bach's Step-By-Step Guide on How to Play THE EYE CONTACT GAME

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

Last month Chris wrote about the benefits of the “Eye Contact Game”. This month she outlines a step-by-step guide on how to play this powerful game with your canine friend.

Note from Kathy Edstrom: I always use this game when working with dogs that have “attention” issues, or have a “lack of focus”. The results are immediate, because this game teaches the dog that when he is calm and focused, the opportunity for reinforcement is very high.

I encourage you to play this game at least three times a day. You will be delightfully surprised at how quickly your dog learns this game, and then starts offering this desirable behavior on a voluntary basis. Have a great time playing the “Eye Contact Game” with your canine friend!

THE EYE CONTACT GAME is taught in an environment that is minimally distracting or stimulating. If in a classroom situation, Trainer and Pup must have room to spread out to decrease reinforcement value of other classmates or to prevent the intimidation of a timorous puppy by all the commotion.

The puppy must know how to respond to its name or the word “Puppiiieee”. Through this experience, Pup learns how to orient towards the trainer to earn reinforcement. They learn the relationship between the INDICATOR “I”, which is a promise of REINFORCEMENT, and the REINFORCEMENT “R” itself. (Hereafter, the use of the INDICATOR followed immediately with REINFORCEMENT will be identified as I/R.) Pup also learns how to take food without nipping the trainer’s fingers!


  1. Trainer must be calm, relaxed and ALWAYS SMILING!
  2. Trainer must have something such as good treats, or be able to provide something such as release from confinement that will be able to engage to the optimum extent of one or more of Pup’s drives.
  3. The “something” must be under complete control of Trainer and they must be able to determine the amount and/or the precise moment that it will be available to Pup.
  4. When using food, it is wise to have small, easily consumed treats so Trainer will not lose continuity or Pup’s attention.
  5. Once Trainer engages the “want”, Pup must be allowed to test any response he thinks of doing. Management tools and plans must be in place to prevent any unwanted or unexpected responses from being reinforced. For example, Pup should have a floor cord on so that he cannot jump up and knock food from Trainer’s hand.

HOW TO PLAY THE EYE CONTACT GAME – Using the “Food Choice Method”

  1. Allow Pup to get interested in food by putting it right at his nose/mouth. Licking or nibbling is allowed in order to pique interest.
  2. Once Pup is interested, Trainer moves food as far away as possible from her own face by extending her arm. The food is NOT used to lure Pup’s attention to Trainer’s face. Trainer wants Pup to choose between looking at the food or looking into her eyes. Luring Pup allows him to look at the food and Trainer’s face at the same time. This is NOT the object of THE EYE CONTACT GAME.
  3. WAIT SOUNDLESSLY while Pup decides where to focus!
  4. At the precise moment the Pup looks away from the food, Indicate/Reinforce (I/R) immediately.
  5. Once Pup has consumed the food reward, present food to Pup’s nose again. As soon as Pup shows interest, Trainer extends her arm to move food away from her face.
  6. Again, at the precise moment when Pup looks away from food, I/R immediately.
  7. Repeat this sequence until Pup immediately looks away from food as soon as it is shown to him and then moved away.
  8. This action will become the first CUE for the puppy to make and maintain eye contact.


  1. Once Pup knows to look away from food as soon as it is presented, Trainer now waits until Pup looks into her eyes before she I/R’s.
  2. When Pup finally looks into Trainer’s eyes, I/R that response instantly and with many little morsels. It is important to “set the psych” by having a high rate of reinforcement for Eye Contact.
  3. While Pup is consuming the last piece of food, immediately present another morsel to his nose. As soon as he completely consumes the last piece and shows interest in the new one, move it away, and wait for Eye Contact. I/R the Eye Contact immediately with multiple morsels. Repeat this sequence a few more times.
  4. At this stage, it is normal for Pup to glance back and forth between food and Eye Contact. Be as accurate as possible in indicating and reinforcing when he is focused on Trainer’s eyes. Be sure Pup is looking at EYES, not chin, forehead, or cheeks.


  1. Pup may not think of looking into Trainer’s eyes. Instead he may offer other behaviors which Trainer does not want. Trainer does NOT I/R any of these undesired responses.
  2. Pup may become frustrated because he is not receiving reinforcement. He may begin to intensify these undesired responses due to his frustration. If this happens, Trainer should stop the game and assess the circumstances.
  3. Techniques for handling specific misbehavior such as barking, jumping or pawing due to frustration will be discussed in the future.
  4. Here are three options to try to relieve Pup’s frustration: a) Go back to THE NAME GAME to get him interested in interacting with Trainer again. (THE NAME GAME is taught in THE THIRD WAY puppy classes.) Then try playing THE EYE CONTACT GAME by starting all over again. b) Go back to reinforcing the glance away from the food a few more times and then try waiting for Pup to make Eye Contact. C) Stop the GAME completely and change either reinforcement or venue before trying again. d) Try an alternate method other than “THE FOOD CHOICE” to teach THE EYE CONTACT GAME.


  1. Once Pup looks away from the food as soon as it is presented and makes Eye Contact, it is time to go on to the next step.
  2. If Pup begins to lose interest in playing THE EYE CONTACT GAME, either change the reinforcer, or stop playing the GAME until another time.
  3. If Pup is still interested in the game, go on to turn glances into sustained, committed Eye Contact.
  4. This next step is an important one. Do NOT stay with glances for more than two or three trials before moving on to requiring committed eye contact.
  5. Remember to always release PUP at the end of the GAME. Say “okay” and move away from Pup. This will tell Pup that the GAME is over. If Pup initiates THE EYE CONTACT GAME, then continue playing.

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.