Some Tips to Stop a Dog From Being Eye Contact Dominant

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 2, 2020

For this Omaha dog training session share an exercise and other tips to help 5 year-old St Bernard Zeus stop acting aggressive when people make eye contact with him.

Knowing that Zeus was sometimes human reactive, I arranged to meet him outside his home using a method I developed that usually causes dogs to be very happy once they meet the person.

It worked, for the most part. Zeus did show some reactivity towards the end of the greeting when I made brief eye contact with him so we walked for a bit before heading inside.

Some dogs have what is called eye contact dominance; barking and reacting when receiving eye contact from people they don’t know. I have stopped dogs from barking when receiveing diect eye contact by changing how they perceive it.

Ive found a simple operant conditioning based focus exercise is a great way to stop dogs from barking when people look directly at them. But in Zeus’s case, Id like to have more of a plan than just a one time exercise. So here are my 4 steps to set the dog’s greeting up for success.

  1. Exercise Zeus appropriately before each step, making sure Zeus has at least 10 minutes to recover before the person arrives.
  2. Meet Zeus outside using this greeting strategy.
  3. Go for a short walk affter Zeus sniffs them a few times.
  4. Treat tossing. Starting outside in the front of the home, the guest tells Zeus to sit (while avoiding eye contact), then tosses a treat. Repeat that 5-10 times, then Zeus leads them inside and the guest repeats the sit, treat toss for another 10 – 20 treats.
  5. Provided Zeus is not reactive, the guardian should practice this click for looks exercise.
  6. Once Zeus is very comfortable with the person, they can practice the focus exercise outlined in the free positive dog training video below.

By training the dog to focus and make eye contact to get the treat, Zeus’s guardian can help him see that eye contact from people is a good thing. They should properly exercise him first, and only do this after doing the previous steps mentioned at the beggining of this write up. Make sure the guardian does a few first before the guest’s turn. We call this warming up.

While this is a very effective treatment to stop dogs from barking when they get eye contact, it needs practice. And its super important the dog is not reacive at any point during said practice. If they are, the dog is too close or the humans rushed through the previous step. If that happens, they need to back up a step and practice there a few times before moving the the next step to try again.

The guardian may also use a leash tether for the focus exercise. This way the dog is near the end of the leash when practicing with the guest. Just in case Zeus decides to lunge, the leash tether can prevent him from reaching the human.

The key for this proceedure is to keep them short and successful. You want to build one positive experinece on top of another and ALWAYS end on a success or good note. That is the freshest memory the dog will have so keeping that one positive and happy is key.

These steps may need to be praciced separately, in subsequent visits. So visit one may be steps 1-3, next visit step 4, then step 5 the next visit, etc. With enough practice, my hope is that Zeus starts warming up faster, but when in doubt or needed, always go slower to set one success up for the next.

Normaly I dont do muzzle training with clients unless we have worked with the dog multple times. I work this way as I have seen people think a muzzle stops the problem. But if you dont train a dog the muzzle is a positive first, or put a dog in a muzzle then put them into stressful situations, it can mkae things worse.

But Zeus is moving soon and our BAT specialist Anna asked why I didnt go over muzzle training after the session. In Zeus’s case, some muzzle training would be a good idea in case he is stressed or anxious when traveling or adjusting to his new home.

The video below goes over how to introduce a muzzle to a dog in a positive way. Id like the guardian to practice this 2+ times a day for a week before needing to use the muzzle.

Im hoping that as Zeus has more positive meetings with strangers and practices the exercises and techniques in this session write up, that his reactive behavior slows down and eventually stops for good.

To help the guardian remember all the dog behavior tips we shared in this in home Omaha dog training session, we filmed a roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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