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.


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