Your dog must already understand that the Spontaneous Sit with Eye Contact is the way he can earn resources in order for this exercise to work.


Many dogs get overly aroused and act silly when you get out their leashes to take them for walks. This exercise teaches dogs to calmly accept the leash before they ever get outside. If your dog is calm inside, you have a better chance of getting attention from him outside. Break this exercise down into as many parts as is necessary for your dog to be as close to 100% successful as possible.

◆    Wait for a SPONTANEOUS SIT, then MARK (click or say YEA or YEP) and REINFORCE (give a treat).
◆    Touch the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Jiggle the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Pick up the leash, 1 inch, mark and reinforce.
◆    Gradually pick up the leash farther each time, mark and reinforce each time you pick up the leash until you are holding the leash in front of you.
◆    Stretch out the leash, mark and reinforce.
◆    Stoop or sit down (no leaning and looming), mark and reinforce. If you are using a clicker DO NOT CLICK IN YOUR DOG’S FACE!
◆    Attach leash, mark and reinforce.

If your dog gets up at any point, simply put the leash down and calmly wait for the spontaneous sit before you try again. Your dog should remain sitting as you attach the lead. Then verbally release him (say FREE) after the leash is attached. Repeat as necessary.

If your dog makes a mistake, verbally mark the dog when he re-sits himself, but DO NOT give a treat. Use only praise as a reinforcement after a fixed mistake. He must be successful the first time you try a step in order to earn a treat reinforcement. If you give a treat after the dog fixes his own mistake, you can inadvertently reinforce the mistake. I always want to make sure the dog to gets positive feedback for fixing a mistake.

Spontaneous Sits and Eye Contact

Mark = say YEA or CLICK
Reinforce = give a treat
MR = mark and reinforce
SS = spontaneous sit(s)
EC = eye contact

SPONTANEOUS SITS (keep treats out of sight)

  •  Ask your dog to sit a few times. When he does MR. Be sure he remains in the sit as you deliver the treat. If you deliver the treat to your dog and he starts to get up, withdraw the treat, don’t say anything, wait for the SS again, then MARK and try to deliver the treat again.
  • Change positions so your dog has to get up. Now smile at him and wait for him to sit. Don’t cue him to sit either verbally or with your body language. Many people move in towards their dogs to get them to sit. This is somewhat threatening to the dog is really just an extra cue anyway. Let your dog figure out sitting on his own pays off, then MR.
  • After MRing your dog for voluntarily sitting a couple times, make it more difficult by now requiring a sit and eye contact, then MR.
  • To get eye contact, wait for your dog to voluntarily give you eye contact, then MR the moment he does so.
  • After he’s done several reps with eye contact, attach a cue to the eye contact, WATCH ME or LOOK works. You are not using the command to get the behavior, you are just attaching it to the behavior he already does. After attaching it several times, you can try using the cue to evoke the behavior.

While using a cue to get the behavior is obviously not “spontaneous”, it is nice to have the behavior on cue as well so you can cue it if necessary.

SPONTANEOUS EYE CONTACT (keep treats out of sight)

I don’t like to lure eye contact as I feel the dog is only following the food lure. I start by holding the treat out to the side. This makes it black and white to your dog–“looking at this food does not pay off, but looking at me does.” You are teaching him right from the first trial to ignore the food and pay attention to you.

Some dogs get overly excited about seeing the treat off to the side and may jump to try to get the treat. For those dogs, you can do one of two things.  (1) Hold the treat higher so your dog doesn’t think you are trying to tease him into jumping to get the treat. (2) Wait for your dog to offer a spontaneous sit. Patiently wait for your dog to glance up at your eyes and MR.

This can be played independently of spontaneous sits or combined with it. Be sure to practice this with the dog in a down or stand as well as a sit.

  • Hold a treat out to the side and just wait. Eventually, your dog will look away from the treat and at you. When he does, MR. You may have to accept a quick glance initially. But try to MR longer looks with each trial.
  • Now do the same thing but switch hands or try both hands. Gradually work your distracting treat hand closer and closer to your dog, until your hand is right next to your dog’s face and they can give you eye contact. Practice both on and off lead.
  • It is not necessary to hold your treat out to the side forever to get eye contact. The purpose is just to make it very clear to your dog that looking at you pays off. Once your dog will sit and look at you, you can stop holding the treat to the side. However, holding the treat out to the side and moving it closer to the dog is a good way to test how good their eye contact is.
  • Watch your dog (don’t stare). Smile and look happy but do not cue your dog to watch you in any way. Each time your dog glances in your direction, MR.
  • Each time your dog looks at your face, MR.


Cassie’s Separation Anxiety Blog

I decided it was hypocritical to have written a book about separation anxiety, yet have a dog with separation anxiety that I had not tried to fix! Cassie has the shoemaker’s children syndrome – so busy he had no time to make shoes for his own kids! Cassie had no shoes! Continue reading

September 1

No video

The girls were alone for about 2 hours today before Dave got home. I over-did standing on the knee and wasn’t in any shape to do Relaxation Protocol this evening. However, when I came home there was no barking or pawing. Dave was home and said there was whining. Still this is better than full fledged barking and carrying on.

August 31

Video 31

The girls were only briefly alone this evening. Dave was home and I came home late from class. Cassie barked like crazy again. It’s interesting that when they were alone all day the day I had surgery, there was no barking. Cassie has been on the treadmill for the last 3 days in a row, more than I would like. But I had to get her some exercise. It’s not good to do the treadmill too much because it artificially shortens their stride and can cause muscle imbalances. And with the AKC National Tracking Invitational coming up, she needs to be at the top of her form!

Today’s video worked on building duration out of sight. I chose this because I’m still on crutches and it was the easiest thing to work on.

August 29

Surgery on knee, so no training today. The girls were alone for a long time today. We were gone from 8:15 am until 6:00 pm. Surprisingly, when we entered the house, there was no barking, which I would have expected after a full day alone.

August 28

No video

We went tracking in the morning, then girls were with me all day. I only did a brief training session today, just a few minutes. A little Relaxation Protocol and some out of sight.

August 27

Video 30

The girls were only alone in the evening today. There was some mild barking when we came home.

Started today’s video with straight Relaxation Protocol. Then moved on to out of sight by the back door, and made some noises. Cassie always has the distraction of Hope wandering about while we are working.

August 26

Video 29

The girls were with me all day today.

You will notice a Scat Mat in the background. The only time I use this is when I bake and have cookies cooling on the table behind her!

I did a little backwards work, then started working on out of sight.