Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Teaching "Watch Me"

I'm not really sure why, but lately I've been mentioning my "watch me" drills a lot. People in training class area always telling me they want to know how I get my dog to watch me so well.  Here it is, this is it - it's all I do with my dogs. (I will admit that my Lilly is an easy case when it comes to "watch me" because she positively adores me, but I also will argue that part of that probably has an awful lot to do with the way we train.)
Also, I find the "watch me" drills are a good way to teach a dog that just because the treat is in my hand does not mean they get to go brain-dead and focus only on the treat - focus on me is the fastest way to get the treat NO MATTER WHERE IT IS. (I also find that just putting a treat up by your face to get the dog to look at your face completely sends the wrong message.)

The "watch me" drill:

* Take treats of as high value as your dog can handle and hold them behind your back with the dog sitting in front of you
* The instant your dog makes eye contact, mark-treat (clicker works but is not necessary)
* There is no law against making kissy-face noises, a "hey you", or even using the words "watch me" to get your dog to look at you, the important part is marking the eye contact at exactly the right time
* Hands back behind you and do it again, give treat from random hands
* Work you way up to a longer and longer hold of the "watch"
* This would also work for a fetch item, hold it behind your back, when the dog performs an appropriate "watch", throw the toy

Here is a video of Lilly and me doing our "watch me" drills.

As you may have noticed, I will occasionally excessively move my hands and bait her around to try to get her to "mess up" and focus on the treat. She's an old pro and generally doesn't go for it anymore. This kind of purposfull handler error, in my opinion, is a good way to help proof a dog for all the mistakes that dufus human of hers tends to make.  I also like to throw extra commands in after my dog knows "the drill" in order to help transfer the "watch" over to actual obedience run-thrus. I will very often use a few "watch me" drills right before we do any obedience work to get started on the right foot and clear her head for what's to come.

I am hoping to borrow a dog who has never done the "watch me" drills before (and never used a clicker before because I think it's a good way to introduce the clicker) to take some video since that should show the beginner's process a little better. When starting out, it is perfectly normal to have a dog stair at your hand for a solid 30 seconds before they finally get frustrated and look at you - this starts out very much as a quick capture exercise and shapes into a nice solid "watch" if you keep at it.

I have been to training classes where a combination of "leave it" and "watch me" was used. The handler put a delicious treat on the floor under their foot and ignored the dog while he was focused on the treat, but rewarded like mad the instant the dog looked at the handler. I think this is probably a fairly good idea, but I personally would start with the treats behind my back first.  (especially since I have seen some very determined dog who would sooner claw your foot off than look up at you when there is a treat on the floor)

Give them a try, let me know what you think.
... and if you're really feeling spunky - take some video  :)


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