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  • Writer's pictureNikki Vanderbeke

It starts with eye contact

Agility is all about connection with your dog. You can't successfully run an agility course without it. Eye contact is connection. When your dog goes into the tunnel, you lose connection. One of the first things I teach my students, is to look at their dog when he exits the tunnel, to re-establish connection.

dog agility tunnel
Ryder chilling in the tunnel

The same is true for any kind of dog training. It all comes down to connection. Eye contact is key.

Last week I had a client come to me with their Golden Retriever. Cricket was 2 years old and they were still having issues with him jumping up and pulling on the leash. Sometimes he would bark on leash too.

Five minutes into talking with the client I already noticed that Cricket never looked at his mom or dad. He constantly scanned the environment without checking in.

So I started them on a very simple exercise for loose leash walking. The owner takes one step back and gives the dog a treat for staying close with a slack leash. After a couple of minutes Cricket still didn't connect with his owners. He kept looking around, almost oblivious to this very easy way of quickly getting a lot of treats. (And he was food motivated.)

So that's where I stepped in and explained to Cricket's parents that we first had to work on eye contact and connection. That we would accomplish nothing until their dog started paying attention to them. I spent the rest of the session showing them how to work on eye contact, both at home and in more distracting environments later on.

I could have continued the training session with working on loose leash walking and jumping up. But it would have been the equivalent of teaching a child math while he is playing a video game. Sometimes you need to take a few steps back and start at the beginning. With the right building blocks you can then start working on behavioral issues.

Once the eye contact and connection is there, Cricket will automatically learn to look at his mom and dad for guidance. And that's a great starting point for any kind of dog training.

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