Eye Lock Log #1

I’ve decided to do a quick press, ideally once a day (but this is me, so it’s doubtful) about my eye contact training.

This is the one area I can’t seem to make consistent training progress on. Lots of other good stuff is happening with Barnum, and even if it’s slow, I can tell we are moving forward.

Eye contact is a different story. Level 2 requires the dog to find the handler’s eyes on two or fewer cues and hold contact for 10 seconds. No hand signals or body language allowed. (Though once we have an *established* cue, I will introduce a nonverbal cue, because I need to have nonverbal cues for everything.)

Today, I took us back to square one and worked my way up from there.

I gathered my strongest reinforcers: frozen raw beef heart cubes and chicken cubes, and the squeaky plush spider tug (to be featured in a future blog on toys for aggressive chewers) and the flying duck. (It’s soft, it squeaks, it flies, it has a tug rope — what more need I say?)

Step one: Rapid Fire (RF) for any eye contact. Several RF in a row for any eye contact, just to get his attention. (One treat doesn’t usually seem to be worth it for him to do something as boring as look at me.)

Then I started clicking for two seconds, three seconds, four seconds — 2-3 reps and RF for each. This is a modified version of the 300-Peck Method. Usually 300 peck works well for us, but it has not been working for eye contact. Thus the modification: Several reps at each step/peck, plus RF.

What is rapid fire? It’s when you shove as many treats as you can as fast as you can into the dog’s mouth. It’s a way to get them excited and focused at the same time. It’s different than a jackpot in that a jackpot is usually tossed on the floor, several treats at once or one right after the other. Some dogs find jackpots terribly exciting. Others find them distracting. (Jersey was gaga over jackpots, and Gadget loved them, too. Barnum can go either way. RF usually works better for him. Depends on the situation.)

Anyway, the longer we went, the more intense his stare got. We got up to seven! Foolish, foolish, foolish me — I had planned to stop at five. But I got greedy. Bad trainer. He broke eye contact after we successfully did seven.

With 300 peck, if you have an error, you go back down to one. Back we went. This time I went up in true peck fashion — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, but did RF for each. We got to TEN!

That’s when I pulled out the big guns. Food can be enjoyable, but it is not, after all, TUG!

When I clicked for ten, I whipped out the spider from behind my back and said, “Git it!” We played an exhilarating minute of tug, and I put the spider behind my back again.

NOW, I got real eye lock! We did two or three more reps from seven to ten seconds, with the spider as reward each time. For the last one, I THREW the spider, which is the most rewarding of all, because then he gets to chase it, pounce on it, chew/shake/squeak it, and bring it back for us to tug on it.

Then we ended.

Another note: I did not use a cue. I have decided not to introduce the cue until at least a week of solid ten-second, consistent eye lock sessions. I’m writing this in public so I can’t take it back.

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