Even though direct eye contact is initially something most dogs are not inclined to do on their own, dogs can learn to do it with just a little effort from a good trainer and, then, their owner. Because dogs are so easily distracted, establishing and maintaining their attention can have immediate and profound effects on their behavior. If all it takes is the wind blowing in a different direction or a leaf blowing down the sidewalk to take your dog’s attention away, being able to get and keep the dog’s attention for any length of time is the key to having enormous control.
Just yesterday I met with a new client and her 3-month old Aussie Shepherd puppy. The owner was stunned when I was able to get the puppy to sit still and look at me for several seconds at a time. His general demeanor, like most Aussies, is to be in constant motion – non-stop energy. All it took was a short signal to tell the puppy a treat it coming. Once the signal is made, the puppy has more motivated to stay focused – a treat is in his future.
Most savvy dog owners understand that dogs were originally bred to serve multiple functions. Herding, guarding, hunting, and ratting were just a few of the many reasons dogs were bred. These jobs were ones that kept the dog busy, occupied and happy. Without these “occupations” dogs are now severely underutilized and, ultimately, “underemployed”. Without specific jobs to do we relegate our pet dogs to a life of boredom and very often, they will self-assign jobs like chewing up whatever they find laying around or digging holes in our backyards. Or, instead of becoming destructive, dogs may develop neurotic behaviors like pacing or unnecessarily guarding the house, barking at anything that goes by.
I Need Your Attention, PLEASE!
The number one problem with most companion dogs is not the dreaded pulling on leash, or the embarrassment of jumping up on strangers or the anxiety-ridden reluctance to come when called. The overriding behavioral problem with the majority of pet dogs is lack of attention. Dogs, by nature are highly distracted and most dog owners are not aware of how important it is to establish and maintain the dog’s attention and focus.
When I introduce our ZEN techniques to new clients, I do so with the clear understanding that to get eye contact from a dog is counterintuitive to them. And, when I suggest to clients that we start a program of ZEN exercises, I often get a raised eyebrow and a fair amount of skepticism to go with it. It’s not a new technique, but one that I’ve developed extensively and has many practical uses for dog owners.
Look Me In the EYES
Using ZEN techniques to refocus the dog and occupy its mind has saved many dog owners from a lifetime of destructive or neurotic behaviors. These exercises, done in the quiet of your own home – in any type of weather – becomes the dog’s new job. Along with great attention and focus, you are able to gain great impulse control from the dog. It helps dogs understand how to stay still, leave objects alone that do not belong to them and maintain a certain level of calm.
To find out more about these wonderful techniques, look for our next issue!