Watch Me


By Trelle Dandridge


“Watch me” can be a very powerful behavior for you and your dog to know.

Picture this, you are walking and you are having a nice leisurely walk with your pup.  The world is perfect and all right with  you and your dogs realm… then, off in the distance… you see it.  It always gets your dog worked up, lunging, barking and  at the very least whining their heads off and acting like a basket case.  Your perfect world comes crashing down, so much for a relaxing walk.

NO matter if this “it” in the distance was an irresistible doggy friend, a cat, or a neighborhood kid that teases your dog relentlessly and your dog loathes, what is going on on your side of the leash?   You see the “it” and and your mind races and anticipates what is about to happen, your heart starts racing, the leash tightens up around your hand and inadvertently your dogs neck, your palms get sweaty, and before you can say “leave it”, “don’t”, or even “no” your dog has spotted the “it” in the distance and immediately starts syncing with your energy.

What if we could practice a skill that you and your dog could use and could call  on to be there, with and without the “it”, with and without food, and with and without your unstable energy you are undoubtedly transmitting down the leash to your dog?

“Watch me” can be that behavior.  Below is a training plan for you and your dog  to master and use in ANY situation.  It is especially helpful for the leash reactive dog, and can become an automatic behavior your dog elicits when the cue is presented…the other dog, or the “it”.  The cue goes from your hand signal or verbal cue to the “it”.  Very cool, when it starts to happen.  With the steps below, make sure you start in a quiet place in your house you and  your dog are used to being calm and relaxed in.  Once you and your dog have mastered “watch me” here, start training the behavior in a  more distracting environment, such as in your house with the kids reading in the room, then the  kids playing quietly, then in the kitchen.  At this point, start varying the places and levels of distraction in the house.  Next, move the behavior  to the backyard when dogs usually aren’t barking through the fence at you guys.  There could be some regression here, just work on getting your “watch me” solid here without distractions.  Then with your kids there, then with them playing quietly, then with the neighbors dog in the distance, etc.  Next level of difficulty might be the front yard, then a play ground or the vet clinic.  When you start places like this, try to do it on slow days and when all children are at school.  Again, make sure the level of difficulty is raised slowly to set up total success.  Another point to make is don’t use “watch me” on a walk until you have it down solid in all other distracting environments.  You may even ask friends to go for walks so you can “accidentally encounter” them on a walk.  Starting with dogs your canine is already friendly with can help with progressing through levels of difficulty.

Go slow, be patient and reward, reward, reward in the beginning.
And the first time you use this and your dog does it, JACKPOT him and sing a song and dance a dance for him.
If your dog prefers to tug or squeak a toy, give them that.

1.  Introduction to ‘Watch Me’
(IN a quiet environment first), have your dog sit and with a treat in your hand (holding it in the hand puppet shape) say “watch me” and move your hand from your dogs nose (making sure he can smell the food in your hand, but can’t get to it)  and bring the hand (in the same hand puppet position) to your cheek bone.  After a half of a second release your dog from the “stay” (essentially it is a “watch-stay”) with your release word you use for a sit-stay or a down-stay.  IF you don’t have a release word, contact Mutts With Manners and we can help you with that.

*Tips to remember with this step:

  • Do not move your hand from your cheek bone until AFTER you give your release word.
  • When finding  a “treat” for your dog, make sure it is something YOUR dog prefers and not something you prefer for your dog.  It has to be just as exciting at the dog park or ona walk in a new place as it is in your living room, so experiment and remember to subtract from your dogs normal diet if they are prone to being over weight.
  • Make sure you use the same hand and same movement when training this  behavior.  For example, if you walk your dog on your left, you may consider using your right hand for the cue since your left hand will be holding onto the leash.

2.  Repeat the movement above saying “watch me”  and increase a half second increment.

Once you get to 2 seconds, see if you can get your dog to make eye contact with you.  If you need to stay interesting to your dog and keep him from looking away, you can wiggle a couple of your fingers  on the hand by your cheekbone (dogs are attracted to movement), cock your head to the side a little, smile, open mouth, etc to keep your dogs attention.  For the half to one and half second your can say “gooooood dog” in a soft, calm manner to let them know what they are doing is what you want.

  • Remember to release your dog, then give them the treat.
  • Resist the urge to repeat yourself.  Only say “watch” one time.  If you are losing your dogs attention, do something else for a while (Basic Obedience drills) then come ack to it and don’t ask for a “watch me” for as long.  If  you were asking for half of a second, just say “watch me” and move your hand from your dogs nose to your cheek bone, release them immediately and give them the reward.
  • IF your dog won’t look at your eyes and just focuses on your cheek bone, this is okay also.  It is preferable for them to look at your eyes, but for some dogs this is very uncomfortable.  Using a clicker (if your dog is clicker trained) is very effective in getting eye contact.

3.  Repeat the steps above until you get to 3-5 seconds.

Once you get to 3-5 seconds (no more for a “watch me”) start adding minor distractions. For every distraction you add, go back a few seconds in  the watch-stay and slowly build your time back up.  Regression is normal and will happen when changing the location or level of distractions.   There are many ways to train this skill, so if you are having a hard time, give us a call and we would be more than happy to help and pull out other tools in our toolbox!

When you start using this skill on the road with the dreadful “it”, make sure your setting your dog up for success.  Only ask for it when you are sure your dog will be successful (for example, when the “it” is 20 ft away your dog is fine, but when it gets 10 feet away he is sure to start dragging you after the “it”) and remember to release them a few seconds before you know they will break.  Rejoice with your dog and do a quick U-turn to race off together the opposite direction and celebrate.  Next time, you might ask a bit more of your dog.