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Voluntary Eye Contact Dissected.

Voluntary eye contact is not something we actively ask with a verbal command; it is something a dog offers us voluntarily on his/her own.

How do we nurture it?

We can start by looking at eye contact as a way our dog is trying to communicate with us.

For example, when we are taking our dog out on our first walk of the day, we can have the dog in a sit next to us in front of an opened door quietly, and only start moving through the door after the dog has offered us eye contact.

I know a lot of people will but we don’t reward the dog with treats when the dog offers us eye contact at the door.


Eye contact is a way for the dog to communicate with the human. It is like asking a question.

We want to respond to the dog’s question with the proper answer. Please challenge yourself and think about what your dog is really asking before giving an answer.

The dog is asking “may l go out with you?” and we respond by saying “yes, let’s go.” The dog is not asking “can l have a treat?”

Also, if we respond to all eye contact moments with a treat, once the dog is not asking for a treat, or does not want a treat, why should the dog offer us eye contact any more - and by extension, why should the dog prioritize us over what he/she really wants in those moments?

Do you want to be the one who can provide your dog with what he/she truly needs, or just someone who always responds to everything your dog says with the same answer?

Let’s consider this example: we are walking together in a farmer’s market, and the dog offers us voluntary eye contact because he/she is unsure about another reactive dog who keeps barking at us - what is the dog asking us when he/she offers us eye contact in this instance?

Is the dog asking for a treat? No, the dog is asking for reassurance, the dog is trying to make sure we have control of the situation, the dog is asking, “you know what is going on and you have my back, right?”

If we respond by giving the dog a treat, are we really addressing the needs of the dog?

Instead, we should use spatial pressure (ie our body movements) and tactile pressure (ie our leash and collar) to show the dog how to disengage from worrying about the other dog and feel safe in that situation. We should reassure our dog that we are very astute to our dog’s need and we are ready and able to address to his/her concern properly and promptly. When we can walk our dog past that crazy dog nonchalantly and confidently is when we have truly addressed the question our dog has asked us.

When we are perceived by our dog as someone who can always help our dog to feel

safe in triggering situations, our dog will be more motivated to look to us for help and reassurance — and offer us voluntary eye contact — in those situations.

Eye contacts that l have described are voluntary. I am not referring to eye contacts given as a result of an obedience command.

There are many moments when a lot of people will try to force eye contacts from a dog which are actually counter productive.

Let’s look at this example: You are staying outside of a coffee shop enjoying a coffee next to your dog, who is staying in a down, very relaxed. You are enjoying your coffee, and your job is enjoying a moment of relaxation.

If you keep asking your dog to give you eye contact and keep using treats to try draw your dog’s attention to you, what are you really doing?

Our objective in this coffee shop scenario is not a dog who is highly stimulated and will keep begging for food but a dog who is Zen and relaxed. Why do we then encourage the dog to keep looking to us for food in an aroused manner? How is that going to help the dog to feel Zen and relaxed?

From the dog’s point of view, if we keep asking the dog for eye contacts when the dog is nervously scanning, we are only going to create more conflicts and frustrations - we are not giving the dog the answer he/she is looking for at all; as a matter of fact, we are making it worse!

It’s like the dog has come to us for help with a problem but we keep lecturing the dog on something completely irrelevant and unhelpful. Why would our dog ever want to come asking for our help again if that is all we are doing?

Instead, we should answer our dog’s concerns by leaving the dog alone when the dog is chilling, and helping the dog to chill if he/she needs help in doing so.

We can interrupt the dog from looking too concerned at the other dogs and people, and we can remind the dog to stay in a down in order to make it easier for the dog to self-sooth successfully.

When our dogs can feel safe and relaxed with our help, they will be convinced that we are always there to give them the solution that they need (not just always dispensing treats no matter what), so they will keep coming back to ask us for more help in the future.

Eye contact is a way for the dog to communicate with us. It is important to keep this communication going by offering the proper solution to the question our dog is asking us. When we can do that is when we will get lots of voluntary eye contacts from our dogs.

Hope this makes sense.

Thank you.

Dog offering eye contact



Another excellent article!

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