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To teach your pet to look at you in response to the signal, initiate the stimulus, such as a light touch on his shoulder or a gentle pull on the leash, and move a treat out in front of his nose and up toward your eye level. As soon as your dog gives eye contact, mark with your “good dog” signal, such as a thumbs up, followed by a treat. Once your pet is readily giving you eye contact in response to the signal, begin to phase out the treat. Move your empty hand, still shaped like it has a treat inside it, up toward your eye level; reward your dog for making eye contact. Eventually, begin to fade out the hand signal by only moving your hand partially toward your face.
The goal is to get your pooch to make eye contact in response to the first cue, such as the shoulder touch or gentle leash pull, without any extra direction from you. Continue to highlight the wanted behavior with your “good dog” signal and a reward, or immediately ask your dog to do another behavior, such as a sit, when he looks at you. Commands your dog previously learned on a verbal signal will need to be retaught with a visual or physical cue. (Vetstreet has some helpful hints on how to transfer cues.)
Once your dog has learned to make eye contact with you, you can teach him other hand signals for everyday activities. Invent your own signals or use American Sign Language to teach your dog words like dinner, walk, car, bedtime and outside. Simply use the designated signal (such as the ASL sign for “walk”) and immediately follow it with the activity (head out the door for a walk with your dog). Be sure all members of your family are consistently using the same signals.
The more you use visual and physical signals with your pet, the better he will understand what you’re telling him. Changing the way your pet communicates will make his hearing loss easier on him — and on you.
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