Dog trains man

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Look at That, Not at Me

No time to look at you, I am looking at that
Dogs learn from each other and copy behaviors of each other.

For Viva I hoped she could benefit from Kenzo, observing how he interacted with other dogs, and how he handles situations that would otherwise impose fear on her.

The exact opposite happened. Viva is making good progress – thanks to BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) – but Kenzo is going in the opposite direction. They are copying alright. But it is Kenzo that is doing the copying, not Viva.

Looking back, Kenzo’s change in behavior already started to develop ever since our very first encounter with an off-leash dog together with Viva. Viva snared at her, and the other dog snared back. Kenzo stepped in between the two ladies before it could escalate any further. He did not snare or growled, just moved in between them while making himself as large as possible. The other dog left. I thought it was just Kenzo being his diplomatic self, like he has done so many times before.

This scenario repeated itself with other dogs. And then one day Kenzo decided to act in a preventive way, and moved in between before the other dog could reach Viva at all. And in small increments, he became a little more persuasive as well. Without me noticing it - I was glad for the help while in the background trying to somehow keep Viva from going berserk -, he was learning a lesson I did not want him to learn. Aggression can pay off.

In the mean time Viva became a lot more relaxed due to the progress we made with her BAT training. She became so much more relaxed that I could start doing some “Look At Me” with her on our walks. When another dog approaches, I can use it to have her focus on me. She can still respond to a “Look at Me” only meters away from another dog.

Kenzo gave “Look at Me” a different meaning. For him it was a signal another dog was approaching – which in itself was correct - and he made himself ready to scare them off for Viva. Instead of looking at me, he would scout the surroundings for any dogs and locked in on them as a guided missile system. No matter how much I tried training it with Kenzo separately, on a walk together with Viva, Kenzo mistook it for a warning that danger is approaching.

Now I found myself in a situation where Viva was improving, but Kenzo was clearly in a downward spiral. Not something I would have expected, to say the least. And I needed to fix it fast.

I discussed it a lot with my Twitter pals, and while I chatted about it with @kimhalligan1 and @positivelydog, I got some great advice. According to @positivelydog  Kenzo was an info-seeking dog and with them “Look at That” (LAT) works better. That meant I actually had to reward him for looking at the other dog, instead of trying to have him to look at me. She sent me this LAT video from Leslie McDevitt – author of “Control Unleashed” - and off we went to try it out.

It was easy to train, as I can reward Kenzo for what is natural for him. When we are on a walk these days, we are just asking for a “Look...”. Viva looks at me, and is rewarded. Kenzo scouts the horizon, finds the dog, I praise and he looks at me for a reward. Jackpot!

It is such a small thing when you think of it, but it makes a huge difference. Having regained focus of both Kenzo & Viva once more we can move forward again as a team. The negative downward spiral Kenzo was in has been stopped. 


  1. Congratulations! We are having issues with Monty and aggression right now, and are having to deal with it.


  2. How wonderful! I'm so glad to hear Kenzo is back on the right track. And they say social media is a waste of time ... Where would we be without our Twitter friends?

  3. When it comes to behaviour modification, I have learned there is no such thing as a small thing. I am so glad Kenzo and Viva are helping each other in a way. It is so fascinating and heart-warming to read about their close bond. They are very lucky dogs to have each other. What a lovely thing for you to witness every day.

  4. What a difference a few different words can make. Always interesting how dogs copy each other. We have a lot of that going on around here. I love the way you were able to recognize it and change Kenzo's perspective and focus. Something I will have to remember.

  5. I had to laugh, especially since it all came out well in the end. Our dogs are always learning -- we just have to watch what they learn! It's terrific that they both are making such good progress. That Kenzo is quite a character, isn't he?

  6. The rule of unintended consequences, huh?

    I'm glad you were able to spot the problem before it got worse and that you got such good advice.

    Once again, it isn't about one size fits all training but about developing a relationship with our dogs and understand their unique needs.

  7. That sounds like a great solution!

  8. very interesting how Kenzo reacted to the command to "look at me". great that you've been able to turn his reaction into a positive. i love that phrase myself and Georgia is pretty good with it. i started teaching it to her with her dinner bowl and treats, and progressed to negative mooments like when she passes cats!

    of course, now that she's back from 6 weeks holidaycamp, she doesn't seem to need any other behaviour modification. incredibly, [touch wood], whatever good stuff she's picked up there is still with her after 3 weeks home. food for thought?

  9. I'm so happy to hear that Leslie McDevitt's LAT game helped Kenzo so much! LAT is a treasure for so many dogs. WTG all of you!

    your twitter pal @positivelydog :D


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