One of the most important sign cues you can teach your deaf dog or hearing dog is the “watch me” sign. It is one of the first signs your deaf dog should learn from you when you start his/her training program. If you do this exercise often, soon your deaf dog will constantly check in with you all the time. When Nitro is playing at our local dog park, he constantly checks in with me by looking in my direction and making eye contact. He checks in with me so much so that when he is far away, I can ask him “do you want water?” by signing to him and he comes running over to meet me at the water fountain.
Christina training deaf puppy Nitro in Gander Mountain. Notice how Nitro keeps his eyes on her at all times? He constantly checks in for direction and information.
The “watch me” sign will also benefit hearing dogs and their owners. I feel bad when I am at the dog park and my deaf dog Nitro comes running to me when I call him but when the hearing dog’s owner calls out to his dogs to “come”, the dogs won’t even make eye contact with them (let alone come running to them when called). To see Recall Training tips, please click here. So this is great training for deaf and hearing dogs alike. Remember all dogs are visual and they watch and respond to our body language very carefully.
Your first goal is to get your dog to pay attention and eye contact is key.
1. Make sure you start with a high value treat. I use small pieces of cut up Oscar Meyer LIGHT bologna or you can use turkey meatballs if you wish (the microwavable kind are great).
2. Put the treat under your dogs nose so he can get a good scent of what’s in your hand and then move it up towards your face. I point at my nose each time.
3. When your dog makes eye contact with you, give him a flash of your hand (I do a three finger flash so I can hold the treat in my hand and flash at the same time) or a thumbs up sign and then treat him immediately. I found this video on YouTube by Pam’s Dog Academy that illustrates how we mark the correct response with a visual marker.
4. Right before the start and during each group positive reinforcement dog training class Nitro and I practice “watch me” training over and over. I treat Nitro every time he makes eye contact (after I mark his positive response with an open hand flash or you can use a “thumbs up” sign) with me for the fist couple of minutes (do this over and over again). By doing this positive reinforcement “watch me” training over and over it gets Nitro totally focused on me for the entire training class. This exercise also helps him not pay any attention to distractions by other dogs and people in our training class. If he does get distracted then I tap him on the shoulder, point to my nose which means “watch me” and then I give him a thumbs up and treat him.
Additional tips: When you do this “watch me” training often try to keep the treat bag out of your dogs view because if you don’t, he will stare at your hand or the treat bag instead of making direct eye contact with you. The same method can also be incorporated into your vibration collar training if you chose to use one. The same rule applies. When you press the vibrate button and he makes eye contact, you immediately give an open flash of your hand to positively mark the correct response from the dog and then the treat the pup with a high value treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Repetition is key in this exercise.
Once your deaf dog gets really good at the “watch me” sign, start using treats less as a lure and only treat him every second or third time. This way you can gradually wean the dog off of treats by conditioning your deaf dog to constantly check in and make eye contact with you. With enough repetition, you will see your dog watching you all the time because eventually it will just become a habit.
Happy training ~ Christina – Deaf Dogs Rock
Note from Christina at Deaf Dogs Rock: I am not a licensed dog trainer and I can only give you training advice on what has worked for my deaf dog Nitro and I over the past year. We do take obedience classes at Field of Dreams Dog Training Center and they have taught us everything we know.