Raising Your Paws - Your Pet Parent Resource

What To Do So Your Dog Will Listen To You. (Blog #69)

Published: 06/16/2020
short-coated black dog
Want to improve the odds that your dog will listen to and follow your cues? Look into it’s eyes. This is what two researchers from the University of Vienna, discovered when they conducted an experiment to find out how dogs decide when it is safest to disobey their owners. In the book,  “The Genius Of Dogs,” by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, the authors describe and explain that the experiment revolved around a dog’s ability to understand what we humans see with our eyes and what effect this has on a dog’s behavior. I explain the experiment and the results in this episode #69 of the Raising Your Paws podcast which you can hear below. Now, for fun, you can try a version of this experiment with your own dog.  It might be easier if you have another person with you to help, but I’m going to try it alone with my dog, Rosy. Here is what you do. Prepare: You will need  a room that has a television in it. Get a chair that you can easily turn around like a dining room or card table chair. Get a book. Place a small amount of one of your dog’s favorite foods in a bowl.  You will probably be replenishing the bowl so have more of the food ready.  Each time, only use a very tiny bit of the food. Call your dog to the room. Set the scene. Tell your dog to lie down and stay. Place the bowl of food on the floor about 2 yards away from your dog behind them. If your dog is not used to having to stay until you release them to eat, you may need to tell them to stay again. Position the chair so that your dog will be in between where you are sitting and where the bowl of food is on the ground.   (in a horizontal line, it will look like:  You – Dog – Food.) Then, while your dog is lying down, staying put, do each of the following 5 things – one at a time. You will need to reset each time, most likely, after doing each activity – adding more food to the bowl and giving the down/stay cue.  Count on your dog getting up and eating the food. That’s okay. The point here is to see which of these activities, if any, has a greater chance of resulting in your dog maintaining the command and which ones, result in your  dog deciding to get up and eat the food. You will Not be punishing or correcting your dog at all during this – it is all for fun. 
  1. Look at your dog in the eyes. Sit in the chair with your eyes, head  and body facing your dog.
  2. Read the book.  Sit in the chair with your head and body facing your dog but with your eyes turned down looking at the pages of the book.
  3. Watch TV.  Sit in the chair. Your body will face your dog, but turn your head and eyes to watch the TV.
  4. Turn your Back.  Sit in the chair  but turn it around so your back is turned away from your dog.
  5. Leave the room.  As soon as you put the food down on the floor, leave the room.
Hold each one of these positions for a few minutes and see what your dog does. Does your dog stay in the down/stay?  For how long?  Do they get up to eat the food? Remember, say nothing to your dog – this is meant to be a game. No punishing.  You want to see how your dog responds to what you are doing and where you are looking after giving the command. Do they obey or not? Don’t feel bad and think that your dog is not well trained if they get up right away to eat the food each time.  In the study, 60 percent of the time, all the dogs ate the food no matter what the dog’s owner was doing. The best results where the dogs stayed in the down position and held off from eating the food the longest, was when the owners were looking into their dog’s eyes. Now that’s intriguing!  Gives whole new meaning to the advice to keep your eyes on your dog. What did you find happened with your pooch? Tell me in the comment section below. I’ll do this experiment with Rosy and let you know how it goes with her.

My dog Rosy,