Thursday, August 9, 2012

Command Clinic: Look at That

All right, all right. "Look at that" isn't really a command. I've heard it described as a game, which I suppose is sort of it.

"Look at that" is something you may have heard of if you're interested in clicker training and positive methods of training. It's in the book Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt. It's sort of what I've done when working with Elka in respect to other dogs. At absolute perfection, I want her to just be able to ignore other dogs. At worst, I want her to be able to be calm around them. Lofty goals, right? Shoot for the stars!


So, I mentioned how we'd been counterconditioning when it came to dogs barking in yards. Look at that is similar. The idea is that you keep your dog under threshold, but within sight of the thing that makes them apprehensive/bonkers/afraid/hyper focused, whatever. Have lots of tasty treats! Say "Look at that" and indicate the Thing to your dog. When your dog looks at the Thing and stays calm, click and treat. Gradually, you'll be able to be closer to whatever the Thing is, as you've reinforced all of that lovely calm behavior. Here's another very good description of it, if I seem to muddled.

So, if your dog has a great need to focus on things that seem to make her anxious (bicycles, skateboards, other dogs, people in hats), consider playing Look at that! It seems like a strange thing, really, encouraging the dog to look at a thing when looking at that thing makes her nervous, but I think the key is that it allows the dog to realize that the Thing is a non issue, and that remaining calm and perhaps focused on your is much more rewarding.

I don't use the words "Look at that" with Elka (mostly because I forgot until I was more versed in what I thought it was), but I will say "Do you see?" Granted, I say a lot of things to Elka, such as "on by", "keep walking", and "that's not your problem", depending on proximity and behavior of the other dogs.


What with all of the encounters we've been having, reinforcing Elka's calmness around other dogs and focus on me is an invaluable thing. It helps in other venues; a squirrel ran across the sidewalk in front of us on a walk today and Elka's head came up, she took a step, and looked at me. 

We had a great impromptu session of "look at that" today on the way home from our walk. We'd already gotten the yayas out at the park and were in the home stretch when a woman with a young golden retriever looking dog came out of a house across the street and proceeded up the sidewalk. From across the street, and down the block a little, Elka was able to look at the dog, and look at me, calmly and with no other excitement than getting the treat into her mouth. We walked in tandem for a block or so before Elka and I made the final turn to head home. 






18 comments:

  1. I can't remember where I first learnt the phrase "look at me" but it's been a lifesaver! It helped us get Georgia over lunging at cats and reacting to dogs that barked and lunged at her. One of the best phrases EVER for a dog to learn, I reckon!

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    1. "look at me" is another one that I use, but it's much harder for Elka when there's a dog RIGHT THERE!

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  2. Elka you are a star. Well done. Have a good day.
    Best wishes Molly

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  3. Mom does that and it works
    Benny & Lily

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  4. Oh that's a good one - I'll have to start implementing that as part of Blueberry's training! Although she gets a lot of compliments in training class because during the breaks, she's always calm as she watches the other dogs frolic, bark, etc. But when we are in the real world - those darn bunnies always get the best of her. Thanks for the tip!

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    1. Squirrels are something that Elka would dearly like to chase if I let her! She's seen bunnies only rarely, thank goodness, and deer are evidently to be growled at.

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  5. This is high up on my list of things we need to start working on. Silas is tricky, though, because he doesn't take treats when he's outside. He's, depending on context, either too excited or too scared. We're working on that, too.

    And in some ways obedience class is a fantastic way for us to do this. In a room with people and dogs acting like weirdos? Check. Basically endless stream of treats? Check. It's doing him a lot of good even though, or maybe especially because, he already knows all of the obedience skills we're working on.

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    1. That can be tough when they won't take treats! There are times (like bathtime) when Elka won't take a treat, so it's hard to figure out how to reward and motivate then.

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  6. Sounds like a good training tip.

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    1. It's definitely one that I was happy to copy!

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  7. I cannot recommend the Control Unleashed (I like the Puppy Version better) book highly enough. Yes, it's sport-dog focused, but the "Look at That" game has been life-changing for me.

    With my dog-aggressive/dog-reactive pit bull, I spent so much time trying to teach her to look at me only and ignore the rest of the world. It was so self-defeating. I was never going to be more interesting to her than another dog. We did a ton of classical conditioning and rewarding calm behavior, and a tremendous amount of self-control work. I wish I had had the LAT game back then.

    It has been so incredibly valuable with my super-reactive Border Collie. If I point things out to him with a "what's that ______" cue, he'll generally note them but not react. Unfortunately right now he's super crazy reactive to other dogs on walks. It's a hard thing to work on, because he's not like that in other scenarios. Take him to class? No problem. Flyball tournaments teeming with other dogs? Sure, whatever. Walk on the street? Cujo. I have been negligent!

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    1. I've heard that the Puppy Version is put together more coherently, which is a definite bonus! I haven't read it myself yet.

      What our dogs do on the street is hand picked to be the most embarrassing to us, I think. Nosing crotches or butts when joggers edge past (they really should respect personal space better), staring at dogs and then being surprised when they get barked at, you know, the little things.

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  8. I use "watch me" or more frequently "look here" to get Nola to focus on the camera ;)
    Nola's Mom

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    1. I do use "look at me" when I'm trying to get Elka to look at the camera, frequently with food or a toy just above my head as well!

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  9. Very nice. We use "where's the doggie" when we want Bella to look at another dog. Then we treat her as soon as she looks back at us. :) I agree with Katie up-thread - trying to get her to look at me when another dog is around was nearly impossible.

    We learned the "where's the doggie" routine in our agility for reactive dogs class. The idea as presented to us was that we *want* her to look at the other dog. We want her to learn that the other dog isn't a threat and begin to associate that seeing another dog leads to treats and all good things.

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    1. "Where's the doggie" is a great one!

      I envy your "agility for reactive dogs" class...that sounds like it could be a lot of fun, in an environment that "gets" your dog and understands that you can still participate in doggie games!

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