I often think that a dog should be taught this before any other command. For the dog that will focus on his owner and trainer is far less likely to become distracted when being asked to do something else.
For example how often do you see an unfortunate owner demanding that a dog sit to be met with the back of an excited canine head, the head of a dog that is looking completely the other way? By teaching the dog to focus on you first many other things will fall into place.
The command, “watch me” is a perfect lesson to teach whilst using treats and the clicker. So here is how to do it;
Have a good stash of tiny treats and your clicker to hand. If you don’t use a clicker to train then that is fine as long as you time your reward word perfectly to match the focus which you are trying to teach. Ensure initially that you are in an area with as few distractions as possible. You can build distraction as your dog learns to focus on you but at the beginning it is fairer to make it easy for him, and you.
Show your dog a treat, put it right on the end of his nose if you need to, and then bring the treat towards you until your dog looks right in your face. The moment he focuses on your face is the time to either use your clicker or reinforce in another way and reward him.
Practice this a few times and soon your dog will be looking directly into your face to try and get the reinforcing click or word and reward. Now simply introduce the command of “watch me”. Bring your command forwards until your dog looks directly at you when asked to.
If you have difficulty getting your dog to look directly into your face you can bring the treat, as he is watching it, up above you and then down behind the back of your head. Your dog’s eyes will automatically follow so that you can quickly reinforce the look.
The other thing an enthusiastic dog may do is jump up for the treat. If this happens you can simply move the reward high over your head and only bring it down again when he settles back down. This way he is learning that if he tries to take the treat without permission he just sends it further away.
When your dog can focus on you as you ask you will find the act useful in so many ways. This includes training sessions, when meeting people and other dogs and even to combat problem behaviors such as car and wildlife chasing.