Just a quick video to chat to you today about ‘Checking In’. A fantastic, and very important life skill for your dog.
So, what’s checking in? This is simply teaching your dog to establish frequent eye contact with you and is a behaviour which will make your training much easier. When we're working with anxious or reactive dogs, and many other behavioural issues, it is one the first behaviours which we teach and reinforce because it meets the dogs natural need to gather information whilst bringing their attention away from the trigger and back to the handler.
Dogs are constantly gathering information, and sometimes it’s useful for that information to be coming from us. Whether that information is a cue for another behaviour, guidance as to whether a situation is safe or not, or to check whether they can continue running ahead. And we can even teach our dogs to preform this ‘check in’ on an environmental cue, for example a new person or dog has entered the environment, or the surface texture beneath their feet have changed.
With this information gathering in mind – It is essential that the person that the dog is being taught to check in with, or focus on, is calm and relaxed. If the dog checks in with the person and they’re anxious or worried, then the dog will pick up on this and likely mirror them. The dog and human then become stuck on a behaviour loop and the dog’s anxiety will be reinforced.
Teaching the dog to check in with us is a simple mark and reward process. It’s a behaviour that at some point every dog will offer their owner. At some point your dog is going to look at you and you need to be ready!
We can use a technique here called ‘Capturing’. When we capture a behaviour, we are reinforcing a complete behaviour which the dog has naturally offered us.
So, for our ‘checking in’, we wait for the dog to look at us and mark the moment that she does then reward.
Do a few short sessions of this and you’ll quickly see the dog looking at you more and more. Once your dog is regularly checking in with you then increase the duration ever so slightly and count to 1 second, mark and reward. And then 2 seconds, mark and reward.
We want our dogs to understand that checking in with us will be recognised and rewarded in all environments so remember to practise in lots of different places. Your reward doesn’t have to be food, you can use toys if that’s what motivates your individual dog.
Once I’m happy with the frequency of check in’s, I start phasing out the food in a couple of steps. First, I continue the food reward coupled with verbal praise, then begin to give the food intermittently, starting at a higher rate of delivery and gradually fading it down so for example. Out of 10 repetitions, they would receive verbal praise 10 times and food + verbal praise 8 times. Then after a few sessions reduce the food further so out of 10 check ins the dog would receive verbal praise 10 times and food 6 times. And so on.
Personally, I always give verbal praise for any check ins which I see, some people do phase this out too. But I personally, like to acknowledge to the dog that I have seen and recognized their engagement.
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