Teaching the “Watch Me” Command

INTRODUCTION A dog who is paying attention to it’s handler, has much less chance of reacting badly towards other dogs, than one who is “eyeballing” all the dogs around him.  Using this exercise, you will see an amazing improvement in your dog’s reaction to other dogs.  It also is a good way to prevent your dog from becoming reactive in the first place.  GENERAL NOTES
  • Many dogs react inappropriately because they do not know how to behave appropriately.  This command teaches the dog an alternative behaviour to lunging.
  • If the dog is already reactive, this method will not cure the dog, but provides the handler with a powerful management tool.
  • The aim is to teach the dog that the approach of another dog is a cue to look into the handler’s face, and good things will follow.
  • A change in body position, changes body posture, and with a change in body posture comes a change in emotional level.  For example, often during heated debates/arguments participants will stand up.  A mediator will frequently ask everyone to sit down.  The very act of sitting, can change the emotional level of the participants.
  • Asking a dog to look at your face, brings its body weight back off its toes, which changes its posture towards the other dogs.  In addition the act of bringing the weight off the toes lowers the emotional arousal level of the dog.
  • The beauty of this command is that as the dog turns his head towards you, his body language automatically changes.  Turning his head away from, and his shoulder or back towards the approaching dog mimics/projects a “calming signal” to the other dog.
  •  The idea is that before trouble occurs, you ask your dog for eye contact and only release it when trouble passes.  You want to build up to the point where you don’t need the command.  Upon seeing another dog your dog automatically looks at you in anticipation of the great praise/treat that will follow.  (This is called an autowatch).  The approaching dog is no longer a threat, it has become the signal for a great treat.
  • By teaching “Watch Me”, you are teaching what you want the dog to do and not hoping that he will work it out for himself.  Teaching what is right is always more effective than merely reprimanding what is wrong.  “No” is not helpful if the dog has no other response in his repertoire.
  • If your dog is looking at you it  means he is no longer being stimulated by the sight of the other dog.
  • Start in a quiet place with no other competition.
  • Say “watch”, wave a treat in front of the dog’s nose and lure up to your face/eyes.
  • Encourage eye contact by smiling, nodding, praising.
  • Your voice must be calm and happy.
  •  After a second or two, say “OK” to release and give treat.
  • Don’t move your hand away from your face before saying “OK” and remember to pause between the verbal release and the treat, so that the movement of your hand does not become the release command i.e. the dog must release on the acoustic rather than the physical movement.
  •  Be consistent with the way you move the treat from your dog up to your face, as a dog learns visual signals faster before than he learns verbal cues.
  • If your dog struggles to stay still and focus on your face, the reinforcement could be a quick run in the other direction.
  • Keep the watches short  – Rather release and reinforce with another watch.
  • Once your dog has worked out what is expected, introduce mild distractions.
  • Don’t make it too hard for your dog to concentrate.
  • Increase the level of difficulty slowly.
  • Do train these exercises as often as possible around as many different dogs as possible.
  • Do ensure the treats being used are extremely desirable to the dog. 
  • Do keep training sessions short and end each training session on a positive note.
  • Even when you think your dog has learnt the command DO continue to reinforce the new behaviour.  Remember when under stress we all default to our old habits.
  • Do decrease your dog’s meals if he is not food motivated.
  • Once the behaviour is well established, do vary the type of reinforcement – substitute praise as you progress, alternate  between treats, praise, play.  Dogs that are not food driven often respond positively to a chase game as a treat.



  • Don’t physically restrain the dog with your hands or haul tightly on the lead if strange dogs are approaching.
  • Don’t worry if in the initial stage the dog is only looking at the food.
  • Don’t hold the command for too long, rather do more repetitions. The hard part is getting the dog to look away from what it is interested in to look at you, not holding its attention once you have it.
  My dog looked away before I said OK
  • Prevent at first by asking for a watch for a second or two. As you progress, the dogs attention may wander – stay focused – the microsecond that you see your dogs head start to turn, move the treat back to you dogs nose and then back to your face..
  • If attention goes, praise when he starts to re-look at you.
  • Do not repeat the command, otherwise the dog will not learn that watch only ends when you say it does.
  • Do not reprimand except with a quiet, calm “AH”
  Working up to real life Don’t ask for “Watch Me” on walks at first, do all your practicing without distractions.
  1. Start in the backyard
  2. Add mild distractions
  3. Introduce a dog in the distance
  4. Try the parking lot of the vet or dog club
  5. Create a set-up with a friend
 If your dog looks back at the other dog as soon as you release him – use it as an opportunity to do another “Watch Me”. Once your dog has learnt the command – do not do it exclusively when you encounter another dog or the command will come to mean that there is another dog there.  Jackpotting an autowatch Your dog will learn that it is fun to look at you when you see another dog. Rather than feeling frustrated and tense – he will see it as an opportunity for fun or treats.  If he does an autowatch – give 10 to 15 treats in rapid succession, one at a time, and praise him. When not to use the watch command. When you know the situation is too difficult for your dog at that stage of its training – rather do a quick about turn and retreat from the situation.   Expect to spend many months building up a good “Watch me”.

2 Responses to “Teaching the “Watch Me” Command”

  • Adam says:

    Thank you for all this helpful info, when I teach “watch me” should I be standing up or kneeling down? (My dog is a Jack russsell and I am 6ft tall)

    • julie says:

      You can start with kneeling but ultimately you want your pup to watch you when you are standing up to your full height.
      To help your pup to focus on you when you are standing up, use delicious treats and practice when your pup is super hungry and with no distractions.

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