Eye contact and maintaining that focus is a critical factor of communication between the dog and the trainer / handler. I start fostering and enhancement of eye contact with the pup almost from the moment I receive him or her.
Initially, I tend to use high value treats as edible reinforcement for the pup's display of desired behavior (in this specific case, that being making and maintaining eye contact). Careful timing is employed relative to the pup making and maintaining eye contact, the use of a "behavioral marker" in the form of a "click" as in "clicker training or a word such as "GOOD", and the immediate rewarding of the edible reinforcement. A number of adjustments to the process are made as the pup becomes more proficient at exhibiting the desired behavior, and in relation to elongation of the duration in which eye contact is maintained. These adjustments often involve changing the frequency schedule of reward from continual to intermittent reinforcement, and elongating the period of time the dog must hold visual contact with the trainer before administering reinforcement (the latter often being done in small increments over time). Each pup is different in how fast they develop this highly desirable skill, but most catch on relatively quickly if given frequent opportunity to do so. Taking time to enhance this ability in a pup is easily integrated into pup's overall training program and the dividends paid in increased trainability are well worth the effort.
I like this idea.
Originally Posted by moscowitz
Also, to get the dogs attention for eye contact a make a small whistling sound and encourage them when they look at me.
The act of making eye contact is, in and of itself an individual behavior. It has to be trained as such and then combined into other behaviors (sit). You can use both positive reinforcement (look at Irishwhistler's post) and then later you can use negative reinforcement when the dog under stands the behavior.
Many train it as a cue'd command like "look" but I prefer not to. I just train it as a default (automatic response) and then build it into other behaviors (mainly sit but also here and heel).
Many people don't work on this with a retriever until, IMHO it's too late.
As was stated sometimes dogs look away as avoidance behavior, or just because the environment has them distracted. This is NOT the time to begin working on it. If it happens and you have skipped the step then you should leave the drill you're currently doing and go work on improving your standard elsewhere before coming back to it.
Once the standard is in place I like to use some mild pressure (e-collar) to remind them to pay attention BUT....Since collar pressure in later drills can CAUSE the avoidance, the dog MUST know what is expected before it can be used to punish it.
Sit includes... all four paws + butt on the ground, square up to me, still tail and eye contact in my world, anything else falls short and doesn't get rewarded. A poor response will mean pressure stays on until the correct response is achieved.
The more you do and the higher your standard in early obedience the easier it is to maintain in retriever drills.
Last edited by DarrinGreene; 04-21-2014 at 11:53 AM.
"Many people don't work on this with a retriever until, IMHO it's too late.
As was stated sometimes dogs look away as avoidance behavior or just because the environment has them distracted. This is NOT the time to begin working on it. If it happens and you have skipped the step then you should leave the drill you're currently doing and go work on improving your standard elsewhere before coming back to it."
This! Skipping the early steps that make you special and someone to look up to "didn't sink in".
Trying to teach a skill and "making" a pup look at you at the same time creates problems "that are not fun". Good eye contact will be a validation or cue that "I'm looking at you because you're cool and the source of exciting things to do." Avoidance means "I'll just pretend you are not there because in the moment I don't see any fun or a need. What's my motivation?"
Here's the kind of parallel this made me think of.....never make eye contact with a Chicago taxi driver.....If you do, the immediate results are generally "not fun".