11 June 2014

It’s Ok to Look Away!

InfoStream Guest Author 

With the weather finally cooperating, people are increasing the amount of time they spend outside, and they aren’t doing it alone. Many people are now hitting the trails with their dogs either within the city or on day trips throughout the province and beyond. Increasing the amount of time we are on the go with our dogs means they have greater interaction with new dogs and people.

It is common for dogs, especially in new situations, to look about their new environment. However, it is important to recognize that while dogs can look around they don’t need to stare at other dogs or people. Looking away is an important calming signal that dogs use to diffuse conflict and confrontation. Staring directly at another dog or person, or sustaining direct eye contact, can lead to reactivity and is a situation we want to avoid. In order to address this we need to teach dogs that it’s ok to look and then look away.

You can start teaching the look behaviour by clicking your dog when he is looking at something that he is worried about or distracted by. The treat delivery is positioned back towards your body, allowing the dog to break eye contact and move their head back towards the handler. This can be repeated to allow your dog time to become comfortable with what they are unsure of, building a more pleasant association with the “scary dog or person.” 

The next step is to mark the dog for making the choice to turn their head away from the distraction. Rather than clicking the dog for looking at the dog or person wait until they make the choice to turn their head away from it, either towards you or the other direction, then click and treat. This way you are marking the dog’s decision to look away. Once the dog is looking at the distraction and looking away you can put the behaviour on cue, such as “Who’s There" or "Where’s the Puppy.” Long term, it is not necessary to click and treat every time they look at and away from something, rather click and treat them intermittently for it. As long as behaviour is reinforced it will continue.

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