The short answer: yes.
- offered eye contact gives the dog a way to say “I'm listening”
- offered eye contact gives the dog a way to say “I'm ready”
- offered eye contact allows you, the handler, to observe that your dog is ready and is listening
- offered eye contact is your dog's choice to tune out potential distractions in their environment to let you know that they are ready and they are listening
I use offered eye contact in training and in competition as to make the process cooperative between myself and my dog. If I am giving cues and instructions before he is ready, he may miss something and make a mistake. It may also encourage me to nag at him to get his attention. If I wait for his offered eye contact, I can give instructions and cues when he's ready. The success rate of the session will be higher and neither of us will be frustrated with each other 🙂
I use offered eye contact in the following training and competition scenarios:
- ready to learn and ready to work protocols
- after collecting reinforcement and before starting the next rep
- discrimination tasks with stationary behaviors
- walking into the ring
- removing the leash
- lining up at the start line
- leading out
In the images below, Shrek is first running to the end of the teeter – he's currently focused on the obstacle task. In the second image, Shrek has stopped moving in his 4on position and has offered eye contact to tell me that he's ready and listening for the next cue!
Am I worried about increasing my dog's handler focus?
Nope. Offered eye contact is very habitual given the situation I'm in. My cues for an agility course (lots of running) look nothing like my cues for offered eye contact (standing still). Dogs are brilliant when it comes to learning context and picking up on physical cues that we aren't even aware of, so with a small amount of awareness of your cues, it's easy to keep the context clear for your dog.