Eye Lock Log Days 3&4, plus Additional Progress!

Eye Contact Log

We start each day — once we’re both fully awake — with our eye contact training session. I keep them very short — 5-10 minutes, at most.

Here’s the very beginning of our day 2 training session. We have come so far! We made it to four seconds, and then at 1:19 he broke contact. I decided to get out the better treats, and there’s no point in watching after that because it’s just me breaking up frozen treats to get ready for the rest of the session. When I gave him that one jackpot, it wasn’t because of duration, but because it was a particularly intense stare — I wanted to reinforce that.

I’m not providing a transcript or captioning because there’s no spoken dialogue, and there’s so little to describe, I don’t think it would be of interest. What I’m signing at the beginning is, “My voice isn’t working today, so it’s a good day to train eye contact.” That’s not my angry face, by the way; that’s just my “exhausted-and-in-pain” facial expression.

Generally, since then, I start out with just 1 low-value treat (chicken) for looks until count of 6, then switch to multiple tiny cubes of beef heart.

Yesterday, after getting to count of 10, I wanted to make sure we were reaching 10 seconds, so I went back to 6 but counted “one-good-dog, two-good-dog,…” until we got to 10. Today, I just counted higher instead, up past 15, which is definitely 10 seconds, at least.

When we get to 10, I do some sort of jackpot, such as treats plus tug, or treats plus wild praise and tummy rubs. He is usually a sponge for affection early in the day.

I got confirmation today that he understands we are working on eye contact, and not, for example, sit-stay, because later in the day when he was doing a sit-stay, he looked away now and then, but held the stay, whereas when we do eye contact sessions, he is getting better and better at holding contact longer, and in down, standing, or sit positions. Sometimes he starts standing, and then he will move into a sit because it’s more comfortable, but he doesn’t break the gaze! Sometimes he rests his chin on my bed and looks up at me to get a click — very cute!

We also worked in a new location today for the first time — the bathroom connected to my bedroom, instead of working at bedside.

Major breakthroughs in other areas yesterday and today!

He now periodically checks in with me by making eye contact and running over to me when playing with other dogs — not cued by me.

LLW Breakthroughs!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, he has been increasingly giving me eye contact on walks, allowing me to include that in criteria for restarting loose-leash walking (LLW), and pulling much less, often going many yards walking beautifully at my side.

Most amazing, he has started offering behaviors for c/t on walks! When he startled and looked over at me for his food reward when I said “YES!” yesterday on a walk, you could have knocked me over with a feather! (I use the verbal marker, “YES!” on walks, because handling the clicker along with everything else is too difficult. Also, he seems to respond more to my voice when we’re in a distracting environment than to the clicker.)

I was finally able, for the first time, to reinforce the loose leash, the position next to the chair, etc., with more than praise or restarting the walk. We have had to rely so much on constantly turning, backing up, and reorienting, which has been dreary for both of us, and I think, painful. (It certainly has been hard on my arms and my powerchair. We’re using a harness so as not to damage his throat, but I still don’t like him getting jerked around when he pulls so hard, I have to swing right to keep him from tipping the chair.)

Eye Contact Leading to Other Skills!

All this has come about, I’m certain, because of our increased eye contact training. I c/t for eye contact when we practice “working walk” inside the house, and am trying to capture eye contact more throughout the day, as well as on walks. He finally started accepting food for eye contact reinforcement a few days ago on walks.

As a result, yesterday and today, not only was I able to reinforce a very eager Barnum for LLW and eyes, but also for sit, down, stand, and touch! He was so eager for the cheese (our treat of choice for walks, because raw meat is too messy, and he adores dairy), he was pinching my fingers sometimes! (Usually he is careful not to nip at the food.) But I let that go for now. I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm!

We are also starting to be able to play “Look at That!” which — thank you Donna of VIAD for the suggestion! — does feed back into eye contact. He has not been calm enough before — almost always above threshold — to play it, even in the house. But we were able to do it when my PCA was sweeping yesterday (he wants to chase the broom, and shred it, of course), and today and yesterday, we have FINALLY applied it to cars successfully, which he tracks with great intensity. (Therefore, it is so important that he learn to relax and be interrupted, or I’m sure he will chase cars if off-leash and given the opportunity.)

I feel so proud of him, and he is delighted with himself, too, and wiggles all over the place when we get home from a walk, covered in triumph!

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5 Responses to “Eye Lock Log Days 3&4, plus Additional Progress!”


  1. 1 Doris Wachsler October 4, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Congratulations to both of you!

    Sounds like a learning spurt has occurred. Great!

  2. 2 Kathy October 4, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Way to go Barnum! I’m always interested your posts, Sharon. I’ve not ever “watched” as someone trains a service dog and I’m just fascinated and admire your work.

    I was wondering (and I know you have a lot going on so if you don’t answer I understand!) I have a six year old lab-chow mix. He loves to please me and is a quick learner. But sometimes he gets spun up (by other dogs, people coming in the house and that kind of thing) and won’t or can’t listen.

    Most of the time he’s just fine but when he goes into the frenzy he’s just beside himself and it takes forever to get his attention back on me and calm him down. I’ve tried using treats to redirect his attention and he can’t
    even focus on those. It’s sad and frustrating. Is there a resource that you could recommend to help me help Jager calm down? Thanks!

  3. 3 Sharon Wachsler October 6, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Hi Kathy,

    Thank you so much! You are always so supportive.

    It sounds like Jager is “above threshold” in the situations you’re describing. Being “above threshold” means a dog cannot learn/focus on anything but whatever is triggering them. In some cases, they are anxious about the stimulus, in others, they are excited. Barnum is an example of a dog who gets easily over threshold just due to distraction (which is a form of excitement). This is normal for a puppy, though some are more distractable than others. Some dogs are called “reactive,” which usually seems to mean (any behaviorist reading this can correct me if I’m wrong) that the dog has fear-aggression and responds by getting in the other dog’s face as a way of trying to figure out or get control of the situation, which they actually find frightening.

    I can’t tell from your description if Jager is over threshold due to Joyjoyjoy! or due to fear or reactivity or just distraction.

    However, no matter the case, I have THE book to recommend to you! (Some day, I promise, I will get a recommended reading list up.) It is called Control Unleashed, and it is by Leslie McDevitt. I have referred to it in a couple of my blogs, and recently referred to some of the exercises in it that have been helpful, such as the “Look at That!” game (LAT).

    I strongly encourage you to devour this book! It is intended for a dog training/clicker savvy reader, though, so if you find yourself unable to understand the lingo, you might need to do some preliminary reading first, with a book that gives the basic underpinnings of clicker training/operant conditioning. A good place to start is Karen Pryor’s work. But there are many others.

    Another book that might be helpful is Emma Parsons’s Click to Calm. This book is intended primarily for people dealing with aggression issues. (The subtitle is Healing the Aggressive Dog.) However, Parsons does a nice job of leaving it up to the owner/handler what “aggression” means to them. Basically, she defines it as “any behavior you find undesirable.” I used some ideas from it to reduce Gadget’s barking. He wasn’t an aggressive dog, but I applied it to my situation. It is definitely more user-friendly for people who aren’t already steeped in the clicker training world, although it’s probably not the number one book to understand the basics of clicker training.

    The number one thing you have to realize, though, and you will learn this in either of the above books, is that you cannot train when a dog is over threshold. You need to get Jager out of the situation that has put him over, and THEN you can train the issue.

    For example, if people visiting is one of his things, and he goes bonkers when someone comes in the house, you practice having him do (whatever) with someone outside the house, at the front gate (if that is below threshold for him). Then you move them up the path, then to the door, then ringing the doorbell, etc.

    You always have to work under threshold. If he’s over threshold, you focus on management. In this case, someone comes to the house, you put Jager in another room or his crate with a stuffed Kong or other chew toy or whatnot, so he is not being triggered and he has something to keep him occupied.

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler October 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    P.S. Kathy, one more thing — just got this in the latest Karen Pryor Clicker Training newsletter:
    Help, We’re Being Invaded! How to Train Polite Greetings by Laura VanArendonk Baug

  5. 5 Kathy October 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you so much; you gave me some really useful nuggets!

    Jager (I think because he is part Chow) gets in a fear-aggressive mode more often than the joy!joy!joy! (it is so much fun to see him hop–all four feet off the ground–when he’s happy, but that’s rare). He feels he must protect us but he’s scared to death to do it. What you described, being over his threshold, makes so much sense.

    We are definitely going to try using the techniques in the article you posted. And check out the books, but yes, I need to learn more about clicker training. Thank you for your help!


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