Natural Dog Training for Shelter Dogs – “Eyes” exercise

Before we even go into this: the “Eyes” exercise is NOT staring a dog down – in the “Eyes” exercise, the dog chooses to make eye connect – this is an entirely different thing.

In January 2012 I started working at the local shelter as an official volunteer. This meant I am now getting their e-mails – and in the first week of January, there was a list in there with dogs needing special attention – because they have been there too long. One of them is Flo.

Of course I am wondering: how do I work with dogs at the shelter …say, 3-4 times a week – to make any difference?

"Flo" January 12, 2012

First, meet Flo – Flo is a now 14 month old pittie mix who came to the shelter with her sister at 10 months of age. Both were strays. No issues, only on her kennel door she has a special sign: strong walker.
After having taken her out 3 times now – I think she is getting that label because she goes nuts when she realizes it is her turn to GET OUT. She is pretty calm when you approach, and she is fairly easily managed outside. However, once she knows it is her turn to get out, like if her kennel door gets opened ….or you go inside…she jumps and jumps and tries to push herself out. No point trying to get her attention (at this time). It is the walk to outside that is a challenge. Once outside … she is a different dog again, though would love to run and play.
All that energy, wanting to run and play. Not really bonded.

Ok, I had read the Natural dog training book and re-read the loose leash walking sections. I also have been pushing with our rat terrier, so pushing is something I have some experience with. And I have seen good results also with the eye exercise.

First – once I have her outside and walk for a few minutes. I assessed her tolerance for touch, and her name recognition…offer her a few treats when she comes towards me….we spend some time walking and stopping. She is a friendly dog, soft, would love to run and play. The first 2 times the fenced side yard was not available, so I had to make do on the leash. How to connect? – That is my first objective with her – establish a connection.

I decided to do the eyes exercise as I saw on a video done by Kevin Behan. Flo “gets” it after the 3 rd time and seems to get better at it, looking at me right away and for longer periods of time, so much so that when she sees I might have a treat in my hand …she just looks at me. I tempt her, swooping the treat towards her nose, without letting her get it of course….but she easily looks at me again. NICE, I really like that exercise. Kevin Behan claims original ownership of it, though it has been incorporated in some form by other trainers.

Here is how it went: We take a break from walking, I pet her, give her a treat or 2 , then I take a piece of treat (in this case chicken) and put it between my thumb and index finger. I eventually alternate which hand, starting with the one that makes it easier for me). I show it then hold it as far away from me as I can…just hold you arm up to your side with your hand at your eye level. Flo looks at me pretty quickly and I zing her with the treat, saying yes….and then pet her, saying good girl. After 3 times, just a few seconds of this…she just looked at me. I periodically repeat the exercise, letting her look longer and longer at me, but still only a few moments. Sometimes, when the treat is bigger and smells good, I just let her smell it, rather that hold it with thumb and finger. It worked well.

The point of the “Eyes” exercise is: Help the bonding process and set up a dynamic we want:  The dog learns that it gets to the thing he wants – the treat in this case – through the handler. The dog learns to focus on the handler. I really like that you can tell as the dog actually TURNs THEIR head towards you and looks AT YOU …not a treat somewhere by your face or eyes. It is a very different dynamic than having a treat in your hand and pointing with it in your face  with the dog looking at the treat. While I also did some minor pushing and name recognition work  and,  on day 3, assessed her ability and willingness to play tug – I really think the “Eyes” exercise is a good exercise for anyone intending to bond with a dog.

This was not for her to recognize her name. I used another exercise for this.

To read more about the “Eyes” exercise, please check out Lee Charles Kelly’s post on “Eyes” here
or here.
This is from the middle part of his post:
The “Eyes!” exercise has the effect of increasing your dog’s social attraction toward you, reducing his natural resistance, and has the added side-effect of grounding your dog’s energy whenever it starts to spin out of control. This makes it a great tool for curbing leash aggression, an overeager interest in squirrels, or even for training the recall.

Before we get started, remember, dogs respond to us on an unconscious level either as pack members (when we hang out at home), potential prey (when we play with them), and potential predators (because our level of gaze is the same as that of wolf’s only natural enemies). In the wild, eye contact can spell the difference between life and death. We want to make our dogs’ eye contact with us a solution to their problems, not a cause for concern or resistance to obeying us. We want to reduce resistance and amp up our attraction to them. And one way we can do that is by making our eye contact with our dogs a source of pleasure and satisfaction.

So here’s how we do the “Eyes!” exercise (as with most exercises where you’re using food, I personally wouldn’t do this with a dog who has food aggression, or whom I don’t already know pretty well):

end of excerpt

To read more about the “Eyes” exercise, please check out Lee Charles Kelly’s post on “Eyes” here
or here.

All dogs deserve a home, all wild K9s to be free