Friday, September 23, 2011

Putting it into Practice- The Final Chapter

Hello again!  To wrap things up on Sinatra's new training plan, I wanted to talk about a few random things I've been teaching him that also help him stay focused and controlled in the face of distraction. 

Exercise 2: Look at That!

LAT is a method of training that helps your dog learn to see exciting things, while remaining in control.  Again, for Sinatra it is genuine excitement, but the technique also works well for leash reactive dogs. 

If you didn't read yesterday's post, you may want to do that first.  Since this training game is similar to Watch Me, I will be aiming to minimize the overlap.

To start, go though the early steps of "watch me."  This isn't critical for LAT, but I find it makes the process a little smoother.  Your dog learns that you value eye contact enough to reward it and so you won't have as much of a struggle helping them connect the dots early on.

I also use either a clicker or the marker word "yes" right off the bat in order to establish a cue that means "you did the right thing, here is your reward."

Dakota's 11th birthday party was yesterday!

The way LAT works it that you want to reward your dog for seeing something that may normally make them react.  You want to start far enough away and reward fast enough that there is no reaction.

For example; I'll be walking Sinatra and see a dog coming up the street.  He normally gets more and more excited, pulling on the leash and trying to sled-dog his way over.  Now when a dog approaches I wait for him to notice.  The second he does, I say yes and give a treat.  Again, if he looks back and stays calm, I use the marker word and reward him.  Don't be afraid to reward frequently, as rapid rewards helps to change the emotional state of the animal- physiologically keeping them from a state of high arousal. 

Don't push your dog too fast, especially if they are reactive.  I always start out a good distance away, then turn and go in the other direction or find an alternate walking route so that my dog never gets close enough to react.  As with Watch Me, your dog will let you know when he's ready to get closer.  You will see him deliberately look at the dog/object and look back at you, as if to say "I get it, look at the thing and get the treat.  Now what?"

Sinatra did this yesterday.  An elderly couple with binoculars and walking sticks were coming our way, and I wanted to be sure Sinatra didn't terrify them.  I pulled off to the side, asked him to sit, and waited.  He did about 5 look-at-them-look-at-yous in a row and remained in a sit.  Rather than walk away, I stayed where I was as they passed, with Sinatra continuing to do the back and forth for treats.

*Special Sinatra Note* 
Because he is so busy, I usually throw in a few tricks at the same time.  Sinatra loves to give paw and high five, so I'll often have him LAT once, then do a trick, then LAT again.  It spreads out the exercise so that the distraction can pass by, and keeps him from getting bored with the same thing over and over.  If your dog has a few favorite tricks, try to add those in.  If your dog is reactive to other dogs, it is a great measurement of their comfort level.  If they can sit but not shake, then they are approaching the limit of their tolerance for the approaching dog.  But if they can sit, shake, roll over, etc. then they are very much within their comfort zone.

I am not in my comfort zone.  Waaayyyyy too much pink.

LAT is a pretty flexible program, so feel free to modify it to your needs.  Do you want your dog to look at something, then make eye contact?  I usually don't require it, as long as they look away from the object to get their reward.  With Sinatra, I usually ask him to sit and continue the exercise that way, because I know if he gets up he's reaching his limit of self control.  With other dogs I've trained, we are able to keep walking with no problem. 

Your dog will start to associate the approaching __________ with rewards, and anticipate those situations in a more relaxed and focused manner.  In general I try both Watch Me and Look At That with a new dog, and see which one works best for them.  Rather than do both but only be okay at them, I eventually pick one and solidify it.

I feel pretty.  Oh so pretty.

Exercise 3:  Touch

This is the next step I'll be taking with Sinatra.  Touch is a fabulous behavior that builds confidence, team work, and is a fun one to show off.  Essentially you are teaching your dog to touch their nose to your hand.  It is simple, a great way for kids to interact with your dog, and opens the door to a world of fun tricks.

As always, start easy.  I bring a closed hand down in front of the dog, then open my hand with the palm facing them.  Most dogs come in for a sniff or lick, and will graze your hand.  The second I feel contact, Yes! and treat.  Bring your hand back up, bring the fist back down, and open it again.

What I love is that every dog I've taught this to has been delighted but slightly confused.  'I don't know why she likes this, but I guess I'll keep doing it' kind of thinking.  At some point, most dogs stall out; you open your hand, and they completely ignore it.  Don't worry!  Keep your hand out and say nothing.  Many dogs will go in for the poke soon enough.  If it's been a minute with no luck, take the hand back and bring the other hand down.

Just like with Watch Me, you want to continually challenge them to improve once they are consistently making contact with your palm.  After 2-3 sessions with a graze being acceptable, make it harder and only reward the 3 hardest pokes out of 5 tries.  If your dog starts to mouth or lick with their poke, simply withhold the reward on those tries.  Your dog is figuring out the rules using trial and error, so it would be unfair to expect them to get it perfectly right all at once.

Parker is ashamed of how much fun Skye is having.

If you are getting solid touches each time, start having fun!  Put your hand above your head and make them stand on their back legs, put your hand on the floor or off to the side.  My personal favorite is having Skye weave figure 8's through my legs to touch my hand.

Remember to use touch as a back up plan when on walks.  If your dog is having an off day and isn't staying focused, use touch as a way to keep her engaged and busy when a distraction approaches.  I always play touch at the vet, when Parker and Skye tend to get worked up from all the sights and smells.  I use it with clients to gauge stress levels when we start training in a new situation or a higher level of difficulty.  If you have a few options available to you, you don't need to worry if one of them isn't working on a given day.

Like with the other posts, I hope this information is helpful.  If something wasn't clear (TGIF) please ask questions in the comment section or e-mail

Also!! In the future I'll write similar posts, so if you have a topic you'd like to see covered, shoot Skye an e-mail and she'll pass it on to me.


  1. I can't read the post yet; too busy staring at the adorable pics!!

  2. I do a similar Did-You-See-That with Koira, though not for any particular reason other than amusement. I use it in the car, when I see something like a deer running, a big bird, a coyote, etc, and will point and as Koira, "Did you see that?" and she will look around like crazy trying to figure out what I'm talking about.

    And I'm working on Touch with Pallo. He already had a solid nose-bump trained, but now I am changing the requirement for it that he must have something in his mouth when he bumps my hand, such as a ball or toy.

  3. Touch is a hard one for this. Dogs are too ADD :)


  4. GReat now mom is going to try all this business on us. The pictures are hilarious
    Benny & Lily

  5. You have the best timing! This is all stuff I've done with our older dog Daphne, but I've been feeling a little lost and overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS I need to teach new puppy Faegan. I read this and was like, "Oh yeah! I use touch all the time, I should probably start there." Thanks for the reminders... this helps me slow down a little. I'm sure Faegan would thank you, too, if her brain worked that way :)

  6. OoH I do touch wif my mom, but her has never thought of usin' it at da
    V-E-T or on a walk. Mom says thanks!

    Woofs and Licks,
    Maggie Mae

    PeeS LUVS da fotos!

  7. What did you say in this post? I don't see anything here but Princess Skye in the party collar. :) (LOVE it!)


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