One of the most useful and verstile games I use with my dog is the “Look at That” game. I use this with fearful dogs, dogs that way to excited, and any dog that just needs help focusing.
If we bring our dogs out in public and tell them they can’t look at anything and should just pay attention to us the whole time, your dog will likely fail. There is a lot going on and if they are fearful or overly excited by something they see they are going to have trouble looking away from the distraction.
Imagine there is something you are scared of in the same room as you, like a large spider. I tell you can can’t look at it. I force you to only look at me and tell you don’t worry about the spider. Is that going to make you feel better? Likely no. You will also probably have trouble focusing on me and what I am saying and instead be worried the spider is somewhere behind you creeping up on you.
Now instead of telling you not to look at the spider, I tell you everytime you look at the spider I am going to give you $10. You will start to look at the spider but then come over and get your $10. The spider will start to seems less scary (and might be something you even look forward to spotting). We remove the motivation behind the looking at the scary thing and start to check in with the person who is handing out money.
The “Look at That” game functions very similarly.
Steps for Look at That Game
- Dog notices trigger (the thing that causes the dog to be scared or overly excited)
- Handler markers dog seeing trigger with marker word such as “yes”
- Handler give dog a reward, likely a treat
An important factor when playing this game is thinking about the distance your dog is away from the trigger. If I put a spider a foot away from you it is going to be difficut to look away but it would be easy to look away from a spider 50 feet away (if you can even see it). So when we start playing we need to start further away and then we can gradually get closer as our dog starts to focus better on us and look away from the trigger quicker and more easily.
I have mainly focused on scared dogs earlier but it is also very helpful for dogs who want to say hi to everyone they see or for dogs who want to chase cats. It can help teach the dog that it pays to hang out near the handler, and your dog starts to see the distraction and check in with you to get paid. If you notice that definitely reward it.
What can the look at game help with
- Dogs who are scared of something (people, other dogs, loud sounds, weird objects)
- Leash reactivity (barking and lunging on leash)
- Calmer behavior around cats, and other small animals
- Focusing in exciting locations
- Ignoring people or dogs on walks
There are a couple problems people face when playing this game that can cause it not to be effective
- Working too close to the distraction: If you dog won’t take treats or is having trouble looking away then you are likely too close. Move further away if possible or find a wide open area to practice, maybe like wide open park.
- Pushing your dog so they keep failing: When I set up a training plan I want my dog to be successful. If they keep failing over and over again (having trouble turning away from the distraction to get the treat or pulling towards or barking at the distraction) then we need to make our sessions easier so they can have a lot of success. Sometimes this happens because we try to push things too quickly so remember to take your time and not rush anytime.
- Using too low value treats: If we bring boring low, value treats out while trying to do the look at that game our dog might not be intrested in the treats. When working around distractions or anything my dog finds scary I bring high value treats so they will actually be intrested.
- You give the treat before the dog spots the trigger: If the dog sees the trigger first and then you give the treat, the dog is learning scary/exciting thing predicts the treat. If you give the treat and then the dog sees the trigger, then he is learning getting a treats predicts something is appraching. If you dog is scared of the trigger they will start to get scared when they get handed a treat.
This game was developed by a professional dog trainer Leslie McDevitt, who authored a book “Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog” which includes the Look at That game and other fun games to get your dog working with you around distractions in the environment.