Making eye contact is a Foundation Skill we work a lot on in
the “Adolescent Mutts and Manners” Program. It teaches
several important lessons:
1. it teaches the dog to focus on the handler’s FACE, not hands
2. it teaches the dog a lot about impulse control around food;
IE; just because we have food here,
does not mean it is automatically available and
3. it becomes a really wonderful connection tool for the human being;
there is hardly anything that is more “warm and fuzzy” than a dog
looking lovingly up into your eyes.
Eye contact builds wonderful connection!

Continuing on the topic from last time What happened to praise. There are a few things that can happen if we start to rely too much on the use of food (or toys) and also more specifically if we use those as “bribes” instead of “consequences” or not thinking about WHAT we are actually rewarding with the food. So maybe rather – if we are using food in non-effective ways.

I think all of us have seen the dog that comes when called – arrives at the handlers HANDS, checking/ smelling for food – and when finding none, he takes off again. How frustrating!

Another thing I see and hear complaints over very often in classes, is what we can call the “One-cookie Syndrome”. This is something handlers create by only ever rewarding their dogs with One Cookie. The dog comes, gets his One Cookie and nothing more…and so he runs off again. Each time he comes to the handler, he is rewarded – but with one, very predictable cookie. And so it won’t be long before the dog figures out that opportunities for praise/ rewards/ treats end with the first cookie, and so he starts to believe that after the one cookie, he is definitely free to run off again.

This is Currie. Another Manners class participant who
mastered the Eye contact game beautifully.
Attention starts here, this is a very powerful and useful game!

The third thing that often happens in conjunction with, or after these two are already in place, is that the handler – now wanting to prevent the running off – starts to grab the dog’s collar as soon as the dog gets to them. I have seen many a student in classes do this with much rehearsed precision, incredible timing and speed; diving over the dog’s head with a lightning-fast motion that captures the dog before he has time to think about making a decision about whether to stay or go. And thus, with this new capture-the-dog technique, we have created a new phenomenon: the Keep-Away-Dog.

So, as with so many things; one thing leads to another and before we know it, we have a whole host of new dilemmas to deal with.

Here’s a simple little test you can do right now with your dog to see how much he values verbal praise or if you need to start to think about How you reward/ reinforce your dog and whether you are using food effectively.

Take a container with some yummy treats and place them up on a table/ counter next to you when your dog is in a different area of the house. Now, call your dog. When your dog comes to you – do NOT use the treats to reinforce him with immediately, but shower him with lavish praise. If he likes to be petted, give him behind-the-ear scratches, chest scratches and bum rubs- all the while praising him up like he’s just done something amazing. Does he happily stay with you, soaking up the praise? Is he willingly letting you grab and let go of his collar? If you can keep him with you, fully connecting for about 20-30 seconds – THEN reach into the container of treats, take out a few (as in 5-6, Not just one!) and give them, one-at-a-time in a slow succession…all the while continuing to praise. If you pause between these treats, and only use verbal praise – where is his focus? On your face where the wonderful words came from, or your hands – where the cookies came from? If you now take a few steps away from him…does he follow you? and if so, where is his focus: on your hands or on your face?

When you are done with this interaction, next put the cookies in your pocket and take the same show on the road next time you can safely let him off leash outside. Same response? Different? What happens?

This is my Dear boy, Maggio who is excellent at
offering eye contact and asking
the question: “Is this what you want?”

This little interaction will tell you a lot about where your dog’s focus is and where you have taught him to find his reinforcement. A lot of scenarios can play out. If he didn’t care about you calling him at all, obviously that says something about his recall and ability to come when called. Maybe the rewards are too much in the environment and really not enough with you at all?
If he came, but could smell the cookies on the counter/ or in your pocket and was obsessed with how to get to the cookies instead of caring about your praise – that shows you an area that can be improved upon!

If he came, took his cookie and started to dash away from you…you know you need to keep him engaged for longer periods of time. It’s the one-cookie-syndrome thing. Try really hard to draw out your reward sequence…starting with verbally praising your dog up, then rewarding in multiples to keep him engaged, all the while continuing to Smile and use your war
m, verbal praise.

If you get way more focus on your hands than your face – this tells you where your dog has learned the reinforcement comes from.
One of my favorite things to teach dogs is the “Eye Contact Game” – but even beyond teaching it formally: NOTICE when your dog is connecting with your eyes! Notice when he checks in and seeks out your eyes! Smile back and tell him how much you love him for it! Don’t wit until you have no connection to try to get it – but notice when you have it, and use your best, warmest verbal praise accompanied by a warm smile to tell your dog what a great choice you think that is!
There really is no better feeling than a dog frequently looking up into your eyes, as if asking “Is this what you want?”

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