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Retriever Training: Eye Contact and Focus

Bill Gibson | Kennel Master at Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels

dog retrieving dummy

It has often been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. In dog training this statement is, to me, particularly true because I believe a dog can read you through your eyes.
Developing and maintaining eye contact is a trait that should be developed in the earliest stages of training and maintained throughout the dog’s life. This brings up one important point; you cannot establish eye contact with your dog when you are wearing sunglasses. Therefore you should never wear sunglasses during training.
I start developing eye contact when a pup’s focus is on the task at hand, ensuring that the pup has eye contact with me prior to giving a command, including  sit, heel, stay, here, watch and place.
Each day, I extend the time that eye contact is maintained while pup stays focused on me until the command is given. For example, I call pup’s name, and when he/she looks at me, I give the command “sit.” Then I get pup’s attention again by calling his/her name, and as we maintain eye contact, I give the command “heel.”  As we walk, I stop, get pup’s attention by calling his/her name and while maintaining eye contact, I give the command “sit.”
Remember that eye contact with the pup is lengthened by incrementally increasing the time between getting pup’s attention by calling his/her name and the time the verbal command is given.  Developing eye contact and focus in the earliest phases of training will pay big dividends as pup’s training progresses.   

GameKeeper Kennels Director of Gun Dog Operations and Chief Trainer Bill Gibson has spent over a decade learning to train Labrador Retrievers using training techniques acquired from some of the best trainers in the United Kingdom. Using the techniques learned there, Bill and his staff of trainers are focused on training British Labrador Retrievers to be a hunter’s best field companion. GameKeeper Kennels' hunting dog training program has several training sites that offer exposure to both land and water training and all types of hunting environments. For qualifications and pricing, visit

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