Tuesday, October 15, 2013

City Dog: Focusing with Check-in's

We have found that the best part of being out and about in the city is that we get to use the skills we've learned in our training classes in real life. One skill that our pups have been over-using lately is the check-in.
The idea is that our pups remember to voluntarily check back with us, giving eye-contact, to communicate and get directions from us.
During our class, we would bring high-value treats and as we walked each time they would check back with us we would treat them. At first it was like an ATM machine, where they would immediately get fed a treat each time they made eye contact. Then we would stretch the time out between treating so it wasn't immediate. As the behavior became more automatic, we were able to increase the amount of check-ins before getting treated and eventually work on eliminating treats overall. We still bring treats on our walks as a reminder because our pups are so treat-motivated and we work on our other training.
This is why it has become one of our most used skills:

Keeping Pace
With so many interesting things going on, it can be so easy for our pups to get ahead of us or to fall behind. Check-in's remind them that we are working as a team and we all need to walk at the same pace. This is especially important when we are walking both of our dogs at the same time.
Our friends also wrote about using check-in's to walk two dogs, here. 

Avoiding Triggers (and Chicken Bones!)
We have been using this eye contact as a way to keep their attention as we navigate around some of the obstacles on our daily walks. If we spot skateboards, an overly-excited dog, a grumpy cat behind a fence, or the ubiquitous chicken bone, we can capture their attention long enough to navigate around the obstacle. Just the other day we had a young, large dog lunging at them trying to play but our pups didn't even notice because they were too busy focusing.

Navigating the City
In the city, so many things can happen at a moment's notice...like that time we were caught in a zombie flash mob. With check ins we know pups have learned to check back with us for guidance and direction if things get uncomfortable. Mr. B especially gets nervous when he hears dogs barking in cars like they're trapped. While he used to get excited and spring in the air on all fours, now he will look back at us for direction.
The funny thing is our pups take it very literally, and oftentimes they will spend an city block without breaking eye contact for the chance to get a sliver of a treat. Especially Miss M who has fallen off of curbs and walked into parked bicycles as she lets me know she is watching me so intently. She has become quite the source of comedy for people we pass. While it's hard to explain unless you see it, here is a video (with accompanying music!) showing Miss M's crazy eyes and bowlegged stance as she walks trying to keep eye-contact. Plus, a cameo by a bouncing Mr. B who is a bit more jovial:
Has anyone else been using this on their walks?

The training command that changed our life.
Who knew we would use this simple skill so much?
Parlor Tricks!

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Hannah@Eriesistibull said...

YES! We took the dogs downtown last week for a nice, long walk and although it's nothing like being in Chicago, it's a good challenge for our pooches with bus stops full of people, lost food items on the ground, and pigeons. We used the check-in with PLENTY of high-value treats with near-perfect results!

Anonymous said...

Melvin is great at check-ins and like your dogs, will walk forward while looking back at me in the hopes that treats will be dispensed! Jake on the other hand, doesn't even know that someone is on the other end of the leash!

Two French Bulldogs said...

So that's what it's called. No wonder mom always says, Look at me.
Benny & Lily

Maggie said...

I love check-ins! I started this with Emmett when he was in therapy dog training so that I could keep him focused when we were walking down a bustling hospital corridor. He's like Miss M, though, in that he'll tumble off a curb/walk into a bush/step into a grate to maintain eye contact just in case I give him a teeny little treat!

Unknown said...

Well now that you bring it up...I never trained her to do it, but my little pit Bess, who was pretty thoroughly abused, uses check ins instinctively. She is always looking to me for guidance. 5 days ago we got a young male pit. Will teach this to him as he learns about my horses and cats and life in general. Right now he is a pretty oblivious teenage boy.

Jen said...

Ok, that video is just too precious. What a good girl!!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently working with Dottie on checking in with us while we are out on walks. I'm hoping it will help her to walk better on a leash and stop stalking squirrels... and small children...

Bella Wolfe said...

Wow, those check-ins really do work! I am going to start incorporating this into our walks. Our problem is not so much distractions, our pittie just wants to be at the very end of the leash, pulling. Wish us luck!

Mel Mapes said...

Great reminder to do this! Learned about this in dog training for our big boy, and used initially, but have failed to do for quite some time now. You've inspired me to start up again... Thanks! As always, enjoy reading about your tips and adventures. :)

k said...

We work on check-ins a lot but are still having mixed results with our rescued teenage boy - unfortunately it sometimes feels like despite all my best efforts nothing is more interesting than the distractions we see on our walks. We have yet to find that "ultimate treat" or reward that will always return his focus to us.

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