“Watch Me” taught over fear is a gateway to aggression

It’s time to debunk the myth. The myth that “Watch Me” is a super cue worth teaching your dog early in life, or when your dog has already learned to ignore you. I’ve earned my stripes to write this article. I’ve seen more than my share of super focused, prey manic and eye fixated dogs come through our doors, with broken, defeated and deflated owners confused as to why their super “obedient” class graduate, canine good citizen or therapy dog has lapsed into a manic biter. They ask why their dog never been able to focus on them on a walk? I mean, the dog has been taught to “watch me”... to watch the owner when commanded to. The owners are angry, even at us.... because at that moment, we are the ones that must say that “watch me” taught to an already over stimulated, fearful dog, is creating horrible manifestations of fixation and prey mania that leads up to the ultimate reason we got called. Their obedient, title and trophy carrying dog, has bitten another dog, person or even killed a small animal. Each assessment, we cover the same thing, how did this happen to you and your dog.

I was reading an article written by Kevin Behan of Natural Dog Training that makes a good point. He says, “When deer feel safe, they act like dogs. When dogs are afraid, they act like deer.” Feeling safe means preyful, the ability to absorb energy, ingest information. The simple act of a dog taking food from you means that the dog has a preyful aspect. Predatory is the ability and need to project or move energy. The simple act of a dog not taking food from you means the energy around the dog is too predatory and unsafe. The dog cannot ingest information, including food. When a dog feels unsafe and you are not the solution, a dog will repeat a pattern of the most efficient way to move stuck energy the quickest.

What does a deer do in headlights? Freeze and Stare. What does a dog do just before it bites? Looks for eyes. What does a dog do when it’s guarding it’s food bowl or juicy bone? Freezes and looks for your eyes. What does “Watch Me” teach? Look into your eyes.

Back to my earned stripes... since 2008 I have seen thousands of dogs with eye fixation and problems to the horizon. The horizon meaning where the dog invests his energy with his predatory eye fixation. Some dogs are so phobic they fixated on the movement of light, flies, bugs. Some are cars, joggers, other dogs, etc. Some dogs become neurotic, spinning, barking, lunging, and some have landed some in some serious bites.

What is one thing most of these dogs have in common? Many have had early puppy manners that includes “watch me” training. All have went through some kind of training due to problem behaviors. Problems behaviors mean the dog is ALREADY fearful. I’ll even go as far to add in “give me paw”... but I’ll save that for another blog. We want our dogs to feel “safe” to give their energy to us. That means when they have a predatory aspect, we can be preyful so they feel safe? If you, in a moment of fear, ask the dog to sustain eye with you, you are unknowingly telling your dog to NOT trust you. Your dog may stare at you for a tasty cookie, but is the dog FEELING safe? No, they are feeling threatened. They learn to view you, the owner, as the source in which to lock up, freeze and suppress energy with. Since energy never stops, what goes in, must come out at the same intensity it went in. Your dog watches you, suppresses energy, and moves it somewhere else.

Imagine locking eyes with someone. How long can you sustain it before you break off, begin to feel uncomfortable and feel threatened? Would you feel safe talking to this person that holds direct eye contact with you long periods of time? I’d say no. I’d say, you’ll do whatever you can to avoid telling that person anything that you may feel judged by.

Let me add a note to say that when my Sheena (who passed in April 2018) was a puppy and I didn’t know any better.... Chris and I would spend countless hours allowing her to chase a laser light across the field to exhaust her hoping she’d sleep through the night. As she got older she began fixating on the movement of the broom. She began biting at the feet of strangers sitting around the table. After a while, the other dogs would get playing and Sheena would fixate on one, eventually sharking one of them with a bite to their leg or hind end. At 2 years old, she bit a family member at the campground, twice! As an adult, I was unable to have her off leash around children. I learned the hard way.

What really matters? Will your dog turn to you when they feel unsafe in any situation? Will they look to you when they need to move energy (predatory), and feel safe giving it to you? Can you be the magnetic and preyful aspect your dog needs to feel safe in that moment? Can you be their grounding post? THAT is what matters. That is what Natural Dog Training’s 5 core exercises, done with you, accomplishes.

To summarize, we feel strongly about solid obedience. It may save your dog’s life some day.

We feel strongly about praise and rewards. We feel strongly about the need to correct your dog for they own safety at times. All can be accomplished all while your dog still views you as the greatest thing in the world.

Once you have that relationship with your dog on a core level, then, you can teach your dog anything! When your dog feels safe with you, they’ll WANT to give all their energy to you. NDT can accomplish a solid recall, down stay, and heel simply by making those acts a solution to your dog’s problems. Stay tuned for more debunking articles on the effects of teaching cues over fear. These include “give paw”, “wait for food” , “Leave It” and many more........

Jeannie Oakley, Canine Stability Center.

Jeannie Oakley