Automatic Check-In

When they see something they want, most dogs just bound ahead towards their desired prize. Many dogs get overexcited just by entering a new environment and seem to lose their brain entirely! Wouldn’t it be nice if your dog learned to check in with you when she wants something? Building an auto-watch behavior can help.

How to Practice:

  1. Start with your dog on leash, at your side.
  2. Begin walking forward. As soon as your dog pulls ahead and adds tension to the leash, stop moving.
  3. Quietly wait for your dog to turn back and look at you. As soon as she does, praise her and begin moving forward again in the direction your dog chooses.
  4. Once she begins to pull again, stop and wait for her to look back at you. The moment she reengages with you, praise and move forward again.

Adding Distractions:

  1. Grab something you know your dog loves – like her favorite toy.
  2. With your dog on leash, toss her toy several feet ahead of you and just out of reach. It should be far enough away that your dog won’t be able to get it immediately.
  3. Get your dog focused on you and then begin to walk forward together. As soon as your dog begins to rush towards the toy, stop moving.
  4. Wait for your dog to look back to you. When she does, praise and move forward, but be ready to repeat the process as soon as she begins to pull again. The goal is getting to the toy on a loose leash. Your dog must check in with you in order to move forward.


At first, or in distracting environments, your dog may not understand what you’re asking when you stop moving. If you’ve stopped for 10 seconds and your dog hasn’t noticed, think of what you can do to get your dog to turn back to you without saying her name. Try shuffling your feet, patting your leg, or scratching your dog on the hip. Praise her the moment she turns back to you and begin moving forward again.

If all other tactics fail to get your dog’s attention, take out a treat and hold it up to you dog’s nose. Use the treat like a magnet to lure your dog’s attention to you. She gets the reward when she is focused on you. Most of the time, the reward for your dog will be getting to move closer to the thing she wants. Only use food if your dog is really struggling to focus on you – or if the environment is very distracting.

When to practice:

  • When you see another dog.
  • When your dog wants to sniff a bush/tree on a walk.
  • When you enter a new/unfamiliar space.

Tip! Your dog needs help learning the same rules apply everywhere. Whenever you go to a new place, or practice with a new item, your dog will need to start the process at the beginning.

Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.