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How to Teach Your Dog to “Check in” with You and Why You Should | Pupford

April 21st, 2023

Filed under Training

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We want to let you in on a secret: your dog making frequent eye contact with you is one of the best ways to improve training effectiveness and keep your dog safe.

Okay, maybe that’s not a secret, but sometimes it feels like there’s a secret code to crack in order to get your dog to actually do it.

Enter: checking in.

Teaching your dog to “check-in” – or make regular, periodic eye contact with you – is totally possible. And it can be one of the best things you do for your dog’s training journey.

Today we’ll chat about teaching your dog to check in, why you should do it to how to teach it.

Pop quiz time! (*evil laugh*)

Don’t worry, there aren’t any report cards – just a chance to learn more about this key behavior. So let’s get right into it!


what a dog check in is

So we’ve said the phrase “checking in” quite a few times already, but what does that really mean?

Your dog checks in through periodic moments of eye contact, where they look to you to basically confirm that they’re doing what they should be and aren’t in any danger.

Think of it as your dog’s way of saying “Everything still good? Are we safe here? Are you happy too?”

If your dog checks in with you and sees that you are calm and relaxed, they’ll likely follow suit. But if they see you distracted, excited, or afraid, they may follow that too.

Hard truth incoming: If that sounds like a lot of responsibility to you, well yeah, that’s our job as dog parents. And when it comes to a skill like checking in, the benefits far outweigh the work it takes.


why you should teach a dog to check in with you

Checking in is one of those skills that transfer to just about any situation and is beneficial for so many reasons.

Here are a few reasons why every dog should know this skill:

  1. Limiting distractions – when your dog knows to focus on you, it makes it a lot easier for them to not focus on anything and everything that pops up along the way.
  2. Improving leash manners – reduce pulling and improve loose leash walking by having your dog stay by your side during walks to facilitate check ins.
  3. Focusing and engaging with training – increasing the frequency of eye contact makes training more engaging.
  4. Staying in control and safe – all of the above combine to help keep you in control of situations and your dog safe and happy.

Let’s take a look at some scenarios where having your dog check-in would be really beneficial:

  • You take your dog to a new environment. They’re unsure of where they are and what to expect, but they know to check in with you. When they do, they see that you are relaxed, which puts them at ease and gives them confidence in the situation.
  • A person starts approaching you while you are walking your dog. Your dog doesn’t know what to do here, or whether they should retreat, hold still, or go towards the person. They know to check in with you though, and when they do you give them the “stay” cue. Now they know to wait there until the person has passed.
  • Their ball rolled under the couch. This sounds silly, but when your dog needs your help, they can check in with you rather than bark, scratch, or get stressed.

Whether you’re home or on the go, the “check-in” cue is helpful for both you and your dog.


how to teach your dog to check in with you

Teaching your dog to check in does require patience and persistence, and is not something you can expect to happen in a single training session.

But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can successfully teach your dog – especially with the right tactics.

Here’s how to teach your dog to check-in:

  1. Get the right tools – a leash, a harness, a clicker, high-value training treats, and a treat pouch
  2. Reward eye contact – take your dog for a walk in a calm, controlled environment or start a training session in your house. Without prompting, reward your dog every time they look up at you.
  3. Practice consistently – practice this enough times that your dog initiates looking at you in hopes of a reward. Be sure to pair the treat with a clicker sound or a word “like ‘yes!’” to eventually be able to phase out treats.
  4. Add distractions – once your dog consistently checks in with you, add some distractions like other people or animals, or cars passing by. Keep marking and rewarding whenever your dog initiates eye contact with you.
  5. Change the environment – when your dog gets really good at checking in regardless of distractions, you can take them to new environments and unpredictable surroundings

Here is a tip from Amber Aquart CPDT-KA on rewarding check-ins on walks.

The goal is to have your dog initiate looking up at you from time to time without any prompting from you, in any situation.

If you encourage your dog to check in with you frequently, you’ll start to notice it becoming a habit. Further encouraging check-ins to take place whenever a situation changes (you walk in a new area, another dog comes along, there’s a new toy in the room, etc.) helps your dog understand that they should check in with you whenever something changes.

Eventually, they’ll be able to use that skill to better understand their environment and navigate situations. All from a little eye contact – how cool is that?!

Has your dog mastered the art of the check-in yet? If so, what situations has it been the most helpful in? If not, where are you getting stuck?

Let’s hear all your experiences in the comments!


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