Clicker-training Boogie: EYE CONTACT

November 29, 2009 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

* This blog post was written over a week ago. I have only just published it.*

We started with hand-targeting. Now it’s ATTENTION/Eye-contact.

I wanted to do this because Boogie seems to be super fixated on my clicker/treat hand.
New treats: Natural Balance salami – two thin slices chopped up into 100 tiny morsels
Time: 15 minutes

This one was hard!  The goal is to have Boogie look at ME, give me eye-contact instead of staring at my hand (with the clicker and treats in it). I am supposed to click the split-second that he shifts his gaze to look at me.

There were a few difficulties:
1. His eyeballs shift up and down so fast! I see his eyeballs shift up for like 1/5th of a second then  down to my hand again, and it’s hard to click at the precise moment!!! By the time I click he is already looking back down at my hand. My timing was repeatedly off.
2. Sometimes I can’t tell if Mr. Wall-Eyes is really looking at me or staring into space. LOL.

The only times that Boogie gave me eye-contact were:

1. When I cued “Watch me!” and pointed my finger at my face at the same time.  The verbal cue “Watch Me” on its own sans gesture had no effect.
2. When I called his name “Boogie!” He would look up at me quickly, then back down to my hand again. This happened so fast it was still hard to click at the precise moment.
3. When the session was over and he came to sit at my feet, BEGGING for more treats. By this time, I no longer had any treats or the clicker near me.

The “Watch Me” command is something that we have practiced pre-clicker, usually when he was sitting or lying down on leash. In those cases, it was easy to tug lightly on the leash and call his name to get his attention. However, in today’s clicker-training context, Boogie was so fixated on my hand that it was difficult to get him to look at me. In fact, he was in such an intense state of staring at my hand that if I so much as moved my foot, he jumped back 5 feet. (He has issues with people’s feet lifting up near him. We think he was kicked by his previous owners)

According to Karen Pryor, if an animal doesn’t respond, it’s not because the animal is stupid, stubborn or rebellious (<–I often struggle to agree in Boogie’s case!)  it is always at least one of the following reasons:

  1. it doesn’t know how to do the behavior
  2. you haven’t trained the cue yet
  3. the animal doesn’t recognize the cue because something different about it (eg, wrong hand, different face expression)
  4. the animal doesn’t perceive the cue at all
  5. you have trained the cue in one environment and you didn’t teach the cue in changing circumstances
  6. you mess up the cue by adding extras (eg, changing tone of voice, adding hand gestures etc…. it becomes too much noise)
  7. there is a medical reason and animal can’t do the behavior

I wonder if he doesn’t know the verbal cue yet and perhaps I need to find another way to teach this. The problem is – the only time that Boogie  gives me his full attention is when he is begging for food or hypnotizing me to throw his ball.  (Yep, he’s got it all sorted out. He usually wins) I am not sure that I want to reinforce “begging” by capturing and clicking these moments.

Update: Instead of “Watch Me”, I am now just using his name – “Boogie!” to get eye-contact. We have a much higher success rate!

Check out this video –


In the comments, the owner wrote:

This trick only took a few hours to teach!! 🙂 … you just have to break it down. The first time Crash did this he got super excited and brought beer after beer and piled them up on the couch. He also punctured one and sprayed my entire living room with beer, so may I recommend encasing the beer in a drink cozy (sp?)!

WHAT? Only a few hours???

IF (and this is a very big IF) Boogie had the skill to open the fridge door and fetch drinks, I would have to hide my dinner leftovers, cake and candy in the freezer…

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Entry filed under: Food, Training.

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