There are a number of exercises you can practice and behaviors you can train to help lower your dog’s arousal level and strengthen their abilities for self-control. The “watch” behavior is an excellent example. It is relatively easy to teach, however, watch needs to be practiced and reinforced a great deal, initially with no or low distractions, in order for it to be successful out in the world when you need it most. In this post I will outline how to teach watch, practice it, and apply it to everyday life.
Using the “watch” behavior can be very useful, especially if you are dealing an adolescent or reactive dog. When a dog learns to look at his handler (directly) on cue it means the dog is no longer looking at another object (stimulus) that might cause him to get aroused. By using an incompatible behavior, watching you, your dog cannot also be staring at something he’s prone to react to.
TEACHING THE “WATCH”
In a non-distracting environment, no other dogs or activities going on take a very yummy treat and hold it right up to your dog’s nose. Before he grabs for it raise the treat up to your nose and pause for a moment or two. As long as your dog looks toward your face mark the behavior (with a click or “yes”) and give the treat to your dog. Note: you should not move your hand until after you have marked the behavior! You can use verbal praise as you deliver the treat.
You will not be adding the word “watch” yet, because your dog doesn’t understand the behavior, so the word would not have meaning or context.
If you are wondering why you would mark the behavior of looking at your face vs. looking in your eyes it’s because some dogs are not comfortable offering direct eye contact. This is because direct eye contact can be confrontational, especially in dog-to-dog interactions. You will want to pace your training based on your dog’s confidence and comfort level with the exercise.
As your dog gets more comfortable looking directly at you, gradually extend the amount of time your dog holds your gaze before you mark the behavior i.e. count to three and then mark the behavior and give the treat. If your dog looks away before the full count to three just say “oops” and restart the behavior. Now that your dog is looking in your eyes you can add the verbal cue “watch”. To introduce the word you will say it just before you present the treat in front of your dog’s nose.
Once your dog is consistently looking at you when you raise the treat to your nose, you can make the exercise harder by using both hands. Have a treat in each hand, place both hands/treats at your dog’s nose, then raise both hands to your nose, and now separate your hands to the left and right. Your dog may look from left to right (or vice versa), the moment your dog looks in your eyes, even for a nanosecond, mark the behavior and give the treat. This will help him understand that it’s eye contact you are looking for.
Practice this for several days in a non-distracting environment and reinforce generously every time your dog looks at you when you say “watch”. Try to make it into a fun game. When your dog’s just hanging out and not paying any attention to you say “Dog’s name watch” and mark the moment he turns his head toward you and shower him with treats, praise and/or have an unexpected play session.
Now that your dog understands how rewarding it is to look at you when you say “watch” it’s time to start using it in the real world. For our example we’ll assume the dog’s issue is a desire to chase cars as they drive by. You will want to pick a training location that is close enough to periodic traffic that you will have a chance to train but not so close or with so much traffic that your dog gets over stimulated/threshold*.
Preparations for training:
• You’ve selected a training area perhaps at a local park or near an intersection in your neighborhood where you can safely be away from the traffic as you gradually refine your new skill.
• Your dog has been well exercised.
• Your dog is hungry.
• You have lots of tasty treats.
As you approach the training location with your dog keep an eye out for traffic. The moment you see a car approaching you will ask your dog to watch, do not wait until the car is near you, that will be too late. Position your body so that when your dog looks at you he is also looking AWAY from the oncoming vehicle. As your dog turns to look at you mark the behavior and give several treats. Continue feeding your dog as the car passes by. If your dog was successful, stop feeding once the car has passed you and ask your dog for another behavior like a sit or down and reward that calm behavior. If your dog was not successful it’s likely you were too close to the road and the vehicle. Next time try to be at least an additional 10 feet away, continue to add distance until your dog is able to be successful.
Continue working in this same location until your dog is giving you a quick watch at least 8 out of 10 times you ask for it, and is able to be calm throughout the training session. Once you have achieved this level of success in the initial training location you can try a new setting. If your dog regresses in the new setting don’t be discouraged. Dogs do not generalize well and your dog may just need you to take it more slowly. Add more distance between you and the traffic and continue the training as you did in your original location.
Good luck 🙂
* Threshold — The point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced. Merriam-Webster.
Can’t believe it’s been a month since my last blog 😦
Casey continues to do well, yippee! We make a point of doing his physical therapy daily. His routine includes a 1-mile walk plus one or two shorter ones each day augmented by his exercises. I’ve found that by adding music the time passes more quickly and we both seem to enjoy our time together. I’m not sure Casey isn’t all about the treats, but as long as his tail’s wagging while he’s doing his exercises I’m happy!
In the last two weeks Casey has passed two milestones:
1. He returned to dance (canine freestyle) class! While his endurance still needs work he was really able to keep up with the rest of the class.
2. Last weekend we took Casey out on his first real hike at a local nature preserve. We were out for exactly an hour, going up & down hills, across fields, etc. You could see how happy he was and pooped by the end.
Casey should be off all restrictions next week, however, I will likely keep him on leash for going down the stairs. It may be his eyesight vs. the leg but I’ve seen him lose his footing on the final steps and don’t want to take any unnecessary chances.
This has been quite a journey but I’m thankful that all has turned out so well. Many thanks go to our support team of family, friends and medical professionals — we wouldn’t be where we are today without everyone’s help — Thank you 🙂
Casey was given permission to start doing short, 5 minute, on leash walks as soon as his bandage was removed (following his ACL/Cranial Cruciate Surgery). Being all terrier — meaning he’s quite resilient and self-assured — Casey was ready to give it a shot. The literature we were given indicated he might not bear weight on the foot for up to 2 weeks, but that we should be looking for some toe tapping within a few days. Well, my boy toe tapped from the minute the bandage was off. Within the week he was balancing himself on the bad leg to pee!
The following week we had some very wintry weather, not terribly conducive to lengthening our walks to the 10 minutes as prescribed. So I decided to do our walking in the basement. How boring to walk aimlessly around a basement for 10 minutes…so I added some music and all of a sudden we were dancing 🙂
As soon as the music started Casey’s tail started wagging. He was delighted to walk to the beat. Yes, there were treats involved, which made the entire experience much more fun. The change in Casey’s attitude was instantaneous. Here was another instance of being able to use his formal training (canine freestyle) to help him rebound from his injury. Adding music has been so successful that we have incorporated the “dancing” as part of our program even when we’re able to go outside for longer walks.
We were fortunate that Casey came home on a Saturday, as it gave us lots of time to spend together as a family. However, it became extremely apparent how much of Casey’s life had involved movement and having a job to do.
Our usual routine was something like this: a morning walk (a mile or two), a play session where he’d chase a ball or practice some dance steps (for breakfast), an evening walk through the neighborhood and an evening play session involving a variety of toys & treats (aka “dinner” some nights). Now, with limited mobility there wasn’t much that Casey was interested in. I prepared a Kong stuffed with liverwurst & kibble — Casey didn’t even lick it. I tried cream cheese and peanut butter with no success. He was depressed, likely in pain, and not interested in making an effort to do anything. It was disheartening.
Finally we had a small breakthrough — I was able to get him to play a game of touch*. I sat on the floor next to him and presented my palm to him (close enough so all he had to do was reach forward) and he touched his nose to my hand. At the moment he touched my hand I marked the behavior with a click and gave him a tasty treat — chicken. It was a start and I was thrilled. He had a job. In addition to giving him something to do it helped build his interest in eating again.
This was just the beginning of how I was able to use Casey’s years of training to help us navigate the obstacles we encountered during his weeks and months of recovery.
*About touch — it is an orientation exercise that has lots of applications in dog training, I teach it in puppy class as an emergency recall and it’s used in upper-level classes to teach a dog to work at a distance and develop involvement with other objects (like ringing a bell or turning a light switch).
To teach touch put a small piece of food (lure) in the palm of one hand and then present that hand, palm forward with fingers facing down, to your dog. As the dog reaches to sniff your palm/fingers “Mark” the contact with a Yes or a Click and give a treat out of your other hand. Once your dog gets the hang of touching your palm with his nose remove the food lure from your presenting hand.
Next time — more progress and how training continues to help in recovery 🙂
We picked Casey up at Metro on Saturday morning. He was wearing one of those awful e-collars (plastic cone) and his left-hind leg was heavily bandaged all the way up to his hip. In spite of it all, Casey seemed to be doing pretty well.
I asked the discharge nurse how he’d been for his pills (I knew the answer before I asked) and was told that they managed to get them into him but they did mark his kennel with a “warning” sign. Giving Casey his meds has NEVER been easy, so I could just imagine… I was not looking forward to the next few weeks of pills and liquid medication.
Fortunately the ride home was uneventful, I held Casey in the back seat of the car. When we got home we spent a low-key day as a family in the living room. There was snow outside — so the bandage had to be covered and I had to do my best to make sure he would not slip on any ice when I took him out.
Casey didn’t have much of an appetite, even though he had not eaten in over 36-hours. He refused to eat at Metro, which was not a surprise. In preparation for his homecoming I’d roasted a chicken (a favorite dish) and finally managed to get him to eat something. He was still recovering from the anesthesia, which I think affected his stomach and digestion. He was also in pain, so pain meds were important, even if he didn’t want to take them.
Casey had to wear the e-collar to make sure he would not get to the bandage, however it looked uncomfortable. I’d borrowed a soft blow-up version from a friend. While the new one worked Casey could still get to the bandage if he really tried, so for bedtime I decided he really needed to wear the cone.
None of us slept much that night! First of all Casey was on restrictions — no steps or stairs — so he had to be carried to bed. Every time he’d get picked up he’d growl (talk about unappreciative). I’d modified his bed, removing his wicker frame, so he could just lie on the mattress. That wasn’t good enough, Casey was used to spending a little time each night on our bed before going to sleep in his own (yes, he’s VERY spoiled). But now he wasn’t allowed on the furniture (fear of jumping) so that started his cries of unhappiness. The cries continued almost all night. It was impossible to tell whether they were cries of pain, discomfort, sadness, misery or all of the above. Casey had never cried like that before. It was heart wrenching.
Somehow we made it through the night but the lack of sleep didn’t help any of us… we carried on.
Next time, how we made it through the next 12 days.
You might expect that you’d have some warning before your dog goes completely lame; unfortunately that’s not necessarily the case. While my Casey is 12.5 years old, he’s always been a very active dog. I routinely considered all of his activities to be “cross-training”: daily walks, weekend hikes (usually 3 – 4 miles through some wooded trail), daily training (even if for only 10 minutes) in dog sports including: agility, obedience, rally obedience, freestyle and most recently (since his injury) nose work.
Up until his accident, I hadn’t seen any indication of lameness. Yes, he has some arthritis in his shoulder, likely from a fall many years ago off a piece of agility equipment, but nothing that hampered his gait. Since we walk on leash daily I regularly watch him move/his gait and hadn’t seen anything. On the evening when the tear happened, we were coming back from our walk down the street (the whole walk’s about 1/2 mile) and Casey was feeling playful. He nose bopped my husband’s leg (his cue for let’s run) and they both took off in a quick sprint. In an instant Casey was on 3-legs. No cry of pain, just unable to bear weight on his left hind. My husband carried him home.
It was quickly apparent that he could not put any weight on the leg. I iced it, gave him a prescription pain pill (which he’d gotten for an interdigital cyst some time previously) and a baby aspirin. Of course his injury happened after 5:00 on a Friday night… I called his vet’s office but they were closed until Monday… Since he was not in obvious pain I decided to wait until Saturday before calling an emergency vet. On Saturday I spoke with several professional friends/colleagues and they all said that the only place to take Casey was Metropolitan (Veterinary Associates). Hands down Metro was touted as THE best place for an ACL injury. As a point of reference, there are 3 other emergency vet clinics within 5 miles of where I live, and Metro’s 25 miles away…I figured it would be a bad idea to take Casey to a close vet, only to know I’d refuse surgery if they suggested it. So, I called Metro to see what they would/could do for him over the weekend. They said basically all they could do would be to make him comfortable. Since Casey wasn’t in any great discomfort I made the personal decision to wait and take him to his own vet before making any additional decisions.
Casey’s vet wasn’t able to see him until Tuesday but when she did see Casey I knew we’d made the right decisions (for us). She confirmed there was likely a tear of his ACL and that Metro was the place to go. She took preliminary radiographs and pre-op blood work. Due to his age, I wanted to make sure he was healthy enough for surgery before we went ahead to see the specialist.
On Thursday 1/24 Casey met his surgeon at Metro — Dr. Jacqui Niles. She took time to examine him and explain what she was looking at/for. Casey, who generally hates being “helped” with anything, was being very cooperative and downright pleasant, until Dr. Niles did one last manipulation — that one hurt! In no uncertain terms Casey let her know that if she ever did that again he would bite her. Dr. Niles confirmed that he’d torn his Cranial Cruciate and that surgery was really the only way to get him back on 4 feet. She explained what would be involved (she does about 3 of these a day!), including the cost (quite substantial I might add) and said we could have a few minutes to discuss it privately. My husband said, no we didn’t need to discuss it; we were here to have the surgery. My husband’s a saint 🙂
Anyway, Casey had surgery the following morning. We dropped him of by 6:30 am and had a call by 9:30 that he had done well and was in recovery. We could pick him up the following morning. I went to bed that night realizing this might be the last good night’s sleep for a while. I had no idea…
More next time 🙂