Teaching Your Dog Drive, Eye Contact and Focus for More Leash Skills

You Want Your Dog to Stare at You Like You are one of These Cupcakes!

This is part 3 of a 4 part series of teaching your dog how to listen and obey you, without pulling while he is on a leash.  If you didn't read my first two installments please do so first here: The Premise of the Magical Dog Leash  and The Magical Dog Leash Part 2: Finding Heel 

In my opinion, Drive and Focus are essential to good dog training and leash skills.

For those of you who are not familiar with the terms I first want to break them down for you so that you can understand what I, and others are talking about when we use these words.

Drive: There are several types of “drives” in dog training; play/prey drive and fight/defensive drives.  When I write articles about drive, I am referring to the play/prey drive function that is innate with most dogs.

Most dogs have some kind of play or prey drive.  When they see a small critter running their automatic response is to give chase and play.  Even if they don’t want to chase animals they may pounce, bite and squeak toys!

The nice thing about this “drive” is that you can increase it, decrease it and learn to control it.

If you have a dog with low prey/play drive you can increase it by frustrating him a bit and teaching him to chase toys, tugs, and balls on a string often keeping them a just barely out of reach for a while before allowing him the reward of catching the “prey”.

  • Frustration causes an increase in drive whether that drive is for a toy or food motivator.
  • Constant playing, food and immediate access to the reward will decrease drive in your dog.

If you have a dog with CRAZY high prey/play drive (like my dogs) you can take it down a few notches and teach them to lower their drive and control themselves in order to play with you and/or you can reward them more often instead of frustrating them.  Instead of teasing, flinging and chasing these dogs need to be taught more obedience in order to harness their play drive!  I don’t need to increase my dogs’ prey drive!

Eventually whether you are increasing or decreasing your dogs drive (perhaps dependent on the situation) you will learn just how to control your dog when he is at

Use Your Dog's Instincts and Toys

his utmost excitable level!

I have people who’s dog have trouble learning to play and they therefore have trouble increasing drive with their dog, if you are in that boat click here.

And for more information on building dog's drive and controlling drive click on the words.

I have had people who also argue that there is NO WAY they want to increase their dog’s play or chase drive!  I completely understand what they are saying, they feel like their dog is already out of control, but the point to this is that by playing with your dog in drive you are learning to control his drive and he is learning to control his impulses.  This ability to control his own wants and impulses is crucial.

This will help you when your dog is distracted by neighbors, kids, bunnies, and anything else he might want to chase or play with while you are out walking.

My dogs are very, very high drive dogs, they want to play and chase almost constantly, but the reason I am so successful with dog training is that I learn to control them while they are at their utmost excitable and uncontrollable.  I teach them that in order to get what they want (the game) they must listen to and obey me.  This gives me dogs that, after they learn the terms of playtime, are willing to ignore almost anything in order to get what they want!

When you are on a walk or a hike with your dog, your ultimate goal will be to control him no matter what the conditions and so by playing some games and teaching him to control his urges you are setting yourselves up for success later!

For help teaching your dogs “Drive” please refer to my former articles.  Teaching your dog to Retrieve using his Play Drive, Building Your Dog’s Drive in Preparation for Obedience and Training Your Dog in Drive.

Play and “Drive” teaches you to control the excitement level of your dog and “Focus” will give you control of what your dog is looking at, at any given time.

Teach Your Dog to Stare At You!

Focus: is eye contact and attention.

I teach all of my dogs to give me eye contact on command.  I want them to learn to ignore EVERYTHING else that is going on and give me attention when I ask for it, no matter what.

Not only is this great for distractions on a walk, this is also critical for nervous or shy dogs.  If my dog is fearful of whatever (leaf blower, dog, human, etc.) I can give him the command to give his focus to me and this therefore helps to distress and calm him.  But for this article we will focus on how this helps with the distractions that life provides.

If you are out walking and your dog sees something that excites him (a skateboarder, another dog, a cat, whatever) you can ask him to ignore it by giving you eye contact.  If he is looking at you and giving you his full attention, he can’t look at or pay attention to anything else!

But, this is a foundation that needs a lot of work, time, and praise!  In order for you to be successful in times of distraction you must again build a firm foundation.  I can take my dogs to the dog park and ask them at any given time to come over and give me eye contact and ignore every other dog in the park, even the ones sniffing or jumping on them…that is good control!  And, if they listen to me and give me what I want they can again go and play with their friends.

What You Will Need

  • Your dog’s favorite toy
  • Yummy soft treats (pea sized or smaller)
  • Clicker
  • Your dog
  • Lots of Patience!

Getting Started

If you are using “drive” training you will mostly be utilizing your dog’s favorite toy.  For “drive” training you don’t need a clicker as the delivery of the toy and your voice are the reward.  It is difficult to click and then quickly deliver your dog’s toy fast enough to build or reinforce drive.   But it is ESSENTIAL to use a marker with your voice so your dog knows what he was doing when he got his toy.  I say “YESSSS” then deliver the toy.

If you are using treats I would recommend using the clicker and your marker word to mark the correct moment that your dog’s eyes reach your pupils.

Using the Toy

Wait Until His PUPILS hit Your Pupils!

Remember that this toy is special and cannot be used or played with at anytime.  This is your toy that you keep hidden and away from your dog until it’s time for training.  It is not special if he has access to it anytime!

  • With your dog sitting or standing in front of you hold the ball or toy away from your body, in your palm (not dangling) and keep it completely still.
  • Your dog will probably focus on it, jump, bark and do just about anything to get you to throw or activate his ball for him.
  • Be patient!  You can win this game if you are patient!
  • Stand completely still and keep your eyes focused on his face.
  • Eventually he should give up on all other behaviors and he will stare straight at your face because he is completely frustrated that you won’t throw his ball.
  • The MOMENT he stares up at you mark that behavior with your marker “YES” or “GOOD” or your clicker and throw his ball or let him jump up and grab it.
  • Continue quietly and patiently playing this game.
  • He will quickly learn to stare up at you and give you eye contact.
  • As he becomes successful add a command “watch me” “watch” or whatever command you desire to let him know what he is doing.  Eventually you will be able to ask for this behavior.

Using Food

  • Get some absolutely scrumptious treats and put one in each hand.
  • With your dog sitting or standing in front of you show him that you have a treat in each of your hands then bring your hands up to your face but not too close to your eyes.
  • Be patient!  Say nothing!
  • Your dog will undoubtedly look from one hand to the other and back and forth until he is totally frustrated at which time he will stare at you!
  • At the MOMENT his pupils hit yours click and treat!
  • Continue doing this until he gets the idea to stare at you intensely, then and only then may you add a command “watch” “watch me” etc.


Some people cheat by spitting food or holding the treat close to the eyes in order to force the dog to look at the face.  But, I don’t think your foundation will be as strong! Instead of teaching your dog to stare at your eyes you are teaching him that “face” is enough and it will be harder for you to determine (later) what your dog is really looking at!

But, as always do, what you need to; to make this all work!

Practice, practice, practice!

At first you will begin in a small secluded less distracted area.  As your dog gets better move him out with the kids and the other pets.  Teach him to stare at you no matter what is going on!

Request this behavior often!  Many times I will simply ask for a “stare” from across the room or after my dog has been playing or is playing!  I want to proof this behavior.  You may notice your dog staring at you often, this is a good sign!

Once your dog can do this with more distractions, extend the time that he is able to continue staring.  A one to two second stare down with you is not going to help later while you are out walking!  Teach him to stare at you for a minute or two and then more!

Next, take his favorite toy and swing it in his face.  Tap his muzzle with his toy or food.  Is he able to continue staring at you and not look toward his toy?  If he is not you are not ready!  Continue working until this is possible.

Become the Focus of Your Dogs World!

You should be able to throw his toy/food, rub him with his toy/food,  jump around move your arms back and forth, feed another dog or pet and still he should maintain his stare.

THEN, you will take him outside and go back to square one to teach him yet again that eye contact and focus outside are the same as eye contact and focus inside.  Remember to be patient!  He must again learn in outside surroundings.  He will want to stare at everything else that is going on.

Your ultimate goal is to be able to touch him with food/toys, throw them, swing them and basically do everything you want while he maintains eye contact with you no matter where you are.

As always you will continue to reinforce him for successful attempts and just increase the time and the stimulus as he is triumphant and learns.

As with all good foundation training, this is not QUICK!  This type of training takes time, energy and work on both of your parts.  There will be frustration on both parts as well, but how you deal with this frustration will determine how successful you are later.

There is no QUICK FIX if you want your dog to truly be victorious and listen to you while he is on a leash.

Eventually you will not ask for this all of the time, only when you need it when he is distracted.  But if you build a strong enough foundation with positive reinforcement and he enjoys this training he will give you eye contact and focus by default no matter what is going on.  Meaning he does it because it is FUN, rewarding, and he is USE TO LISTENING TO YOU.

If however you rarely work on this skill or the finding heel skill you will end up with a dog that continues to pull and ignore you!

Want Even More Tips For A More Enjoyable Walk With Your Dog?

Check out our class, where we show you how you can teach your dog to have impeccable leash manners, even if right now, he's out of control, always jumping on you during walks, or biting and tugging on the leash...

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  1. geraldine nevison says:

    my dog is always jumping up at people when they come into the room including some of the family members i have tryed to stop her but she just keeps on doing it how can i stop this


  2. Luann says:

    Again another great article in dog training. I’m training my Husky with this program and family, friends and strangers cannot believe what she can do. Now it’s time to train her better to walk on a leash and I can’t wait to start. She is young and gets distracted outside so this will take time. She pulls and wants to walk ahead of me (A Husky trait that is hard to change)but is getting it. People stop me when I walk her and ask how I trained her because they can’t walk their dog without being pulled down the block. I tell them about this online training program. This program teaches everything that is needed in dog training and more. I cannot afford training classes at a facility. I look foward to the articles and lesons. My dog really enjoys training and when I say Training time she gets excited. One day I said training time and she did mosy of the training without me…she sat on her mat, raised her paw, layed doen, rolled over, got up and rang the bell and gave me my slippers without me saying a word…it was so funny. Thanks,


  3. Frank Argotti says:

    Everything you wrote in your articles, are so true of my dog. I can’t wait to train her to walk with me. She is such a sweetheart and fun loving.

    Thank You


  4. Eileen says:

    What do you think about leadership training or coaching? Dogs appear to respond to energetically stronger people; other people do too.


  5. kabore says:

    my 14weeks German Shepherd has started walking with me in the heel position without any training but am finding it difficult to let him sit correctly,he always sit on one leg on his side


  6. Liked it.Informitive,exciting, I can’t wait to start. Today was my first day leach training &
    IT WAS EXCITING 2 be successful. that I can’t wait 4 our next walk in 2hrs.This program seems exciting. AND Is a God send, because I wanted 2 give him away because of drudgery, but now I hav hope & a smile, thank u Chet!


  7. Lisa says:

    Love your tips you keep sending me. Our dog has learned how to look at me for treats, to go outside, and to get her tug toy. The dog will look at my 10 year old daughter too when I am not around however when I am around the dog will not even acknowledge my daugher. It makes my daughter feel sad that we can’t both play with the dog at the same time, we both love training her.


    Minette Reply:

    Have your daughter do more training with the dog and you must ignore him while she is around so the love and affection comes from her 😉


  8. Lindsey says:

    This series of posts has been a great help to me. My 2 year old dog Jack (a rescue, we think he’s lab and boxer) listens well in the house and knows a lot of tricks. He’ll come when you call him at the dog park. However, he gets super distracted when he’s out for a walk on his leash. I’ve started working with him, teaching him heel, etc. We haven’t made it outside with our heel and focus training, partly because of the snow. He’s learning quickly, but his need for exercise still begs the question, “What should I do as far as taking him for a walk while he’s still in the learning process? Do I let him pull, or should I should take him to the off leash park to run until he’s ready for leashed walking?” Thanks for the help, your blog is great! -Jack’s Mom


    Minette Reply:

    Don’t let him get into the habit of pullling!!


  9. Kit Ruehl says:

    Some how I must have deleted your email about barking dogs. Could you please resend it as I have a very loud, intense barker around the house, in the car, and when playing with sticks, stones, and bricks which he loves to carry around the back yard.


  10. zelda says:

    2 year old Maltese was rescued. I agreed to take care of it. It is terrified of other people. When company comes, it jumps up in my lap and cowers. People have tried offering it a treat; but it says no and runs away. Any suggestions?

    This same dog is picky about it’s food… I have bought several brands and it sniffs and turns away. It will eat Bacon Treats.


  11. What kind of dogs are suffering from bloating,I really like to know and what to do ?


  12. Grant says:

    Where can I find part 4 of this series. Been waiting with baited breath.


    Minette Reply:

    I still need to write it, so for now it is in my head 😉 but thank you for prodding me! I will get it written and posted very soon. Keep breathing and keep an eye on my blog!


  13. Shannon says:

    I have 3 questions regarding this article:

    1. Is it ok to use the dog’s name as the ‘watch’ command?

    2. Is it beneficial/not beneficial to use both voice/toy and click/treat methods or is it recommended to stick to just one method?

    3. Is it required to keep eye contact while the dog is performing the ‘watch’ command or is it not required or even beneficial to look away or continue doing other things while the dog is watching you?

    Thank you for your time


    Minette Reply:

    I don’t use my dog’s name because sometimes you are going to call your dog or use his name when it is not feasible for him to give you eye contact (he is too far away or he is in another room) so that makes it confusing and set the dog and you up to fail.

    I don’t understand question 2

    and for question 3 eventually NO but in the beginning YES you need to see your dogs eyes for a long time to condition the behavior prior to doing other things with your eyes.

    Eventually you can fade looking at your dog and your dog will learn to adjust (but like any training you need to fade slowly)


  14. Arlene says:

    I have a 4 year old Havanese that has somewhat a mind of her own but reading your articles and the testimonies, I’m anxious to train me and her. wish me luck!


  15. Nicole says:

    No matter what I have tried (trail of bread crumbs, i.e., treats), asking her to look at me when on a walk, stopping, changing directions, etc., but nothing works. She will pull to sniff at the ground and whirl like a whirling dervish if she sees something she wants to get to, and she almost pulls me off my feet. Any suggestions? I am at wits’ end! Walking with her is turning into an ordeal rather than a joy.


  16. Carrie says:

    After reading this a few weeks ago I started working on this with my 4 month old GSD. I paired it with a hand signal and I can attest to the wonder of this. In many situations (not all, yet) I can say her name and touch my nose and she immediately sits and bores holes into my eyes. We are currently working on longer stare times with more distractions. I’m amazed at how well it works!


  17. Tricia says:

    Good luck Arlene! I love this site as it has helped me so much and continues to do so as i train my young maltipoo Stu. We all can use luck in the training game!


  18. Becky says:

    Do you say RELEASE to have the dog release/end eye contact?
    I have a behaviorist that is going to teach me how to drive cap after I master leash manners. In meantime, he said I cannot take my dog to the park to run off leash even in conjunction with the leash training. I fear he is lacking the exercise and interaction with other dogs in meantime. Do you agree that this is a no-no? I will still train consecutively on leash…


    Minette Reply:

    Absolutely agree! hook him to a bike and run him.

    and, yes, I do release by marking the behavior when the dog has done it to the best of his ability. The clicker or the marker ends the behavior.


  19. kim says:

    On the “watch” command , when walking my dog outside, should I be taking the treats out w me, and give them to him when he follows through with complying with the command?


    Minette Reply:

    Absolutely! Training outside should look like training inside until the dog understands.. then you can lessen treats but still use them on occasion to reinforce behavior.


  20. kathy says:

    i have a 7 month old rott is it to late to train him? i have trained him to sit, stay until i say ok, shake, and lay down also when i put him in his cage he goes in on his owe when i have a treat for him. He just started picking up his leg and pees on things in the house right away i say no and put him outside.


  21. sharon says:

    i have just found your website, it couldnt have come at a better time for us. We have an 18month old golden retriever, he walks fairly good on leash until he sees another dog and he will bark and bark to greet it, nearly pulling me off my feet to do so, which in itself is a concern. We he has the chance to greet another dog, he is calm no aggression at all, he just thinks its his right to greet all dogs – even if they are on the other side of a busy road.
    What would your suggestions be to stop this from continuing?
    we have taught him to” look at me” and during his walk he does turn back and look at me on his own accord and i click and treat but as u mentioned in this article its only a 2 second look which wont do much when i need him to focus.
    so perhaps i should retrain the look at me with a prey drive toy as he is highly prey driven – a friend has a toy on a stick that he went absolutely crazy for when at their house – so if i buy one of them and use it for training only and begin at home and outside as you have suggested.
    what would your suggestion be in the meantime if we see other dogs – what would be the best approach to use?


    Minette Reply:

    I would work on training this behavior and stop the walking until you get the behavior you want on cue and under your control


  22. Jason says:

    What about a dog who “lost” his play drive? How do I get it back? If he does play its only inside and he only likes keep away?


    Minette Reply:

    use the search bar at the top of the page to find articles on teaching your dog to play and building drive


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