Sunday, October 9, 2011

Training Foundation-"Watch"!

Clarence, showing off his "Watch" command.

Training the Foundation
Behaviors – Watch!

Author, Jan Casey

If you have a spouse or
a child, you have probably started a conversation with him or her only to hear
minutes later, “What? Were you talking to me?” How do you know if the recipient
of your verbal wisdom is even listening? Generally, that person will be looking
at you, giving you eye contact, not locked in on the TV or absorbed in reading
the paper. So why not apply this concept to training your dog?

The uses for “Watch!”
are endless. “Watch!” can help the dog attend to the handler while heeling,
refocus the dog on the trainer instead of the squirrels trying to interrupt
agility practice, or distract the dogs from barking at the toad that is here to
kill us all. Attention is one of the first basic cues all owners should teach
in order to build a great training foundation. After all, you can’t teach her
if she’s not paying attention!

I love clicker training
because it is dog friendly, scientifically sound, and effective. Teaching the
dog to attend to you begins by what we call “loading the clicker.” It’s really
very easy. Set a small bowl of soft, super-yummy treats next to your chair,
have the dog sit or stand by that chair, click the clicker, then give your dog
a treat. Repeat until the dog begins to automatically look for the treat after
hearing the click. No clicker or a sound sensitive dog ? You can just use the
word “Yes!” in place of the click. Now that your dog is eagerly anticipating
her treat after hearing the click, you are ready to teach the dog to “Watch!”

Okay, up and out of the
chair! With a smile on your face, hold a treat in your hand near your face. The
dog will look from the treat to your eyes, wondering why you have failed to
recognize that all treats belong in her mouth, not your hand. The second she
looks at your eyes, click and feed her the treat. While it is best to have the
dog look you in the eye, some dogs will avoid it as this is often an invitation
to fight in the doggy world. If your dog indicates discomfort with eye contact,
settle for a look at your chin. Practice repeatedly and when she begins to
spend less time worrying about the treat in your hand and more time looking
into your eyes, turn your back on her. She should run around to be in front of
you again – after all, she has learned that eye contact is rewarding! Be sure
to click and treat when she comes to face you and looks into your eyes.
Practice, practice, practice!

It’s time to add the
word “Watch!” to cue her to look into your eyes. Give your cue word, turn your
back, then click and treat when she runs to where you are facing and looks into
your eyes. Are you still smiling? It’s important!. Practice, practice,
practice! Once the dog is excellent at this, you can use play or any other fun
activity like tug or fetch to reward the dog.

Once you have a 90%
success rate, cue “Watch!” without turning and lengthen the time the dog must
hold eye contact. Treat the dog for longer and longer eye contact. When you
have achieved a prolonged stare, begin to work on distractions. This is
extremely important for dogs who will be entered into show events, where there
will be guaranteed distractions from loud noises to loose dogs. Chris Bach,
developer of The Third Way Training System, a system that uses guidance and positive
techniques rather than force and punishment to train dogs to the highest level
(check out her website,
suggests dropping a rock. If the dog maintains eye contact, click and treat. If
the dog looks at the rock and then back at you, click and treat. If the dog
stares at the rock, pick it up and try again. Using games like this will teach
the dog that attending to you is much more rewarding than anything else that
happens. Be sure to do these proofing exercises in many different situations
and locations. Once you have duration and distraction conquered, work on
“Watch!” from a distance. Start a foot back and work up to 100 feet away.

An important reminder:
as you add new criteria, like the addition of distraction, temporarily relax
previous requirements. In other words, don’t expect a 3 minute watch when you
first add distraction. Are you still smiling? I hope so. This is a game – make
sure you and your dog are having fun!

Jan Casey is a
reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc.
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs.
Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet
and Kid's Korner .
This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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