I’ve been working with a number of dog & handler teams, and have noticed that the dogs have either been trained to watch their handlers with hawk-like stares or they give ‘drive-by’ glances, failing to look at or engage with their person (and often get a cookie anyway). Some of those pairs include deaf dogs. Particularly for deafies, training the dog to check in with their handler is crucial.
Here are two easy foundation games to play to train your dog to “orient towards me!”
The first game is ‘You’re watching me!’ Carry cookies. Lots of them – small, high value treats. To start, every time you ‘catch’ your dog even glance in your direction, give them a cookie. Smile & tell them how smart they are (yes, even your deafies!). You don’t need to add a cue, or hold out for duration to start. Just catch them glancing in your direction & reinforce that.
By watching them carefully, you’ll learn how to tell when they are choosing to look at you. When the dog is doing that about 80% of the time, start waiting for a teeny tiny bit of duration. A nano-second or two. Then reward. Every time they’re succeeding about 80% of the time, slowly increase the criteria you have for duration of the look.
If they “fail,” make it simpler. Go back to asking for a nano-second of duration – or none at all. Make this so easy the dog is set up for success (errorless learning)!
My dogs check in with me frequently. When they wake up from a nap, they look for me. When they come into the house, they look for me. When they’re done with their meals, get out of the car, go through a door, stop sniffing that enticing patch of grass on our walk, they look for or at me because of their history of reinforcement for the thousands times I’ve ‘caught’ them looking at me.
At this point, they get rewarded infrequently. But they still look! It’s habit. They’ve been conditioned to do so.
Game #2: The Wiggle Cookie Game. This is a fun, exciting game to teach your dog to orient back to you with movement. Video link for Wiggle Cookie here. Have fun!