Teaching your dog when they’re not paying attention is hard, and it’s even harder to prevent undesired actions if you can’t get them to look at you. The “watch me” exercise means exactly that: when you tell them, “Watch me,” you want your dog to look at you.
Some people choose to say “look at me” or “look” rather than “watch me” to teach this cue. Whichever phrase you prefer is fine, just make sure to be consistent throughout.
Teaching “Watch Me”
With your dog on leash, ask them to “sit” in front of you. Hold the leash in one hand and have high value treats in the other hand.
Let your dog sniff the treats and then move the treats towards your chin. As they watch your hand and the treats, watch their eyes.
When they look at your face (ideally your eyes) rather than the treats, praise them with, “Good watch me!” and reward them.
Repeat three or four times and take a break.
Enforcing “Watch Me”
There are many ways to enforce teaching your dog the “watch me” command. As they get more confident in looking at you, advance their recall by practicing the following training sessions.
After several days of practice, when they follow your hand movement and the verbal cue, begin decreasing the hand signal. Instead of going from their nose to your chin, start about halfway from their nose to your chin. Continue asking them to "watch me,” and immediately praise and reward them when they look at you.
When your dog reliably watches you when you ask, add variety to the training. Have them sit in front of you and ask them to watch you, then take one step to the right and then one to the left. Praise them and give them the treat. Then back away a step or two and reward them when they follow you and continue to watch you. Challenge them and make training a fun game. Continue the praise and treats.
When your dog understands “watch me,” you can begin decreasing the treats. Don’t abruptly stop treating or you’ll lose the cue altogether. Instead, begin rewarding “watch me” sporadically by giving a treat for good eye contact, for quick response, and for ignoring distractions to look at you.
Using “Watch Me”
“Watch me" has many uses for training, primarily for problem prevention.
If your dog pulls too much while you’re walking, ask them to “watch me.” They can’t look at you and drag you down the street at the same time. Repeat until they have settled down.
When your dog wants to respond to dogs barking behind a fence, ask your dog to “watch me.” If they’re focused on you, they won’t try to respond to the bad dogs.
If your dog is distracted while practicing obedience exercises, “watch me” helps get their attention so you can continue training.
As you practice this exercise and enforce it, you’ll find many uses for it.