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Look At That! Making the Trigger the Target

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Excerpted from Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs From Over-the-Top to Under Control by Laura VanArendonk Baugh. Laura is also a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) faculty member and will be speaking at ClickerExpo 2014.

Rewarding dogs for looking at objects or beings which distract them seems counter-intuitive, but it can be quite effective. Leslie McDevitt helped popularize the procedure in her justly-famous book Control Unleashed, describing a training game she dubbed "Look at That" (now often abbreviated as LAT in online discussion).

The technique feels odd and even frightening to some handlers — "but if I treat him for looking at the trigger, he'll focus even more on the trigger!"  — but there are other principles of behavior science at play here, and when done properly this is an excellent exercise.

How is it done?

When the dog looks at the trigger, immediately click and then offer a treat. (If the dog is barking or lunging at the trigger, you are too near the trigger or too slow to click.) When the dog eats and looks at the trigger again, click and treat again.

Repeat.

Contrary to what one might think, this does not reinforce fixating on the trigger, but rather reduces the distraction value of the trigger. By making the looking behavior an operant task performed for reward, instead of an emotionally-driven reactive behavior, the behavior around the trigger becomes calmer, more thoughtful and deliberate, and altogether less unpleasant. 

About the author
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Laura VanArendonk Baugh, CPDT, KPACTP, started playing with animals at an early age and never grew out of it. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, where she lives with her tolerant husband and her dobermans. Laura is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

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