Eye see

I was recently emailed and asked if I had written any articles on “eye”.  I said I had referred to it in a number of articles but never really written one exclusively about the difference in eye and how I work dogs to “fit” their eye.

It got me thinking why I hadn’t done an article on it and came to the conclusion – because if you try to confine your training issues to “just eye” the you are missing the “whole” picture. There are many different “kinds” of eye but its NOT just the eye it’s the rest of “the package” combined with the eye that you have to deal with.

However, I thought I would “touch on” some of the issues I’ve run up against through the years.

There are dogs with the kind of eye that always wants to head. When you first start fetching they will make a circle around you trying to get to the head of the sheep. It’s a battle to keep them on the other side to fetch. Sometimes in the beginning they won’t even “go around” the sheep if they catch the sheep’s heads when they’re first brought out.

Eye that doesn’t want to come inside the bubble and lies down. Sometimes these are flanking dogs will keep a certain distance around the sheep. When you try to make them “walk up” they want to flank to move their sheep instead of push on straight.

Eye that freezes and won’t move. The prefer to lie there as long as they “feel” the sheep are under control and not moving. Usually these”type” if forced to come into the bubble … totally break all eye contact and come in fast and often gripping.

Eye that will keep moving but never releases pressure. These are the type that while flanking are “leaning” on their sheep with eye. They may not get closer to the sheep with their body … but their mind and eye are putting pressure on the entire time.

Eye that makes a dog “kick out” and keep “kicking out”. These kind will look at sheep and go wider every time they look … ending up totally out of contact with the sheep.

Eye that won’t finish a flank. These type don’t flank they “lean” … go 3 steps and stop to eye some more. However, some of these only have that eye on the flank and if asked to walk straight will push the sheep straight without hesitance.

Eye that goes past balance. They look and leave correctly but then “get lost” and forget what they are doing. But when brought back “into the picture” will eye up again.

So loose eyed they will just keep walking until they are in the middle of their sheep. Usually these “type” have no feel or balance. Often even after trained these type flop around behind their sheep.

Strong eyed but no style. Most people “think” that if a dog show eye he’s stylish. I’ve seen a number of dogs freeze with their eye but stand totally upright (head up – shoulder up, etc.). Some of these can show style as long as they aren’t “personal and up close” with their sheep.

After saying “all that”, it’s never wise to bring a working dog down to “one” attribute. Because everything can change by adding one more element into the “eye equations” above. Say a dog with too much eye but also has a lot of forward … you won’t run into the same issues with that dog as you would with one that has very little forward.

So, how do you work with all this “eye”?  In a “nutshell” direct the action so you can direct the eye.

I find it easier to work on eye at the same time I’m working on flanks. My goal is to create rhythmic and relaxed “flank” in the dog with calm, quiet, even pressure. Teaching him to stop on pressure (not running past it or trying to go the other way) will help with loose eyed dogs. Keeping me, the sheep and the dog moving helps strong eyed dogs. Eying up on a flank or flying about with no thought needs to be corrected UP CLOSE first. The dog’s body AND thought process needs to be collected. Avoidance will create a flank in the dog but shouldn’t be mistaken for actually learning his flanks. He must understand that pressure/correction is there to help him “problem solve”.

So, if he “eyes” up in the wrong spot … correction (pressure) … release only when he gives to that pressure  – then encourage him to go on with the flank. Until, the eye “creeps” in again then repeat the correction “over and over” again. You are trying to shape his “programming”. It’s not as if he’s going out of his way to do something wrong … he’s trying to control sheep the only way he knows and you need to convince him there is another way of handling sheep.

Once the dog is “in-tune” with your body language and understands the you are there to give guidance … use your body language to create the shape of flank you want THEN put the command with it. So, don’t give a “come-bye” if he’s NOT flanking correctly. You don’t want him to associate the “flank command” to an incorrect movement. You have to be consist with your body, your words and your whistles. If sometimes you let him show more eye than he needs then correct him other times … the flank (and later the outrun) will never have the shape you want.

So, as you can “see” no dog is perfect but it’s your job to “draw out” the best in him. If you can look at the “whole dog” and work with what he has …  he will be a better dog and you will end up a better trainer.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Chas Hamilton says:

    Check out this research at UC-Davis, I think you will find it a ‘comfort!’.
    Handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes
    Lisa Lit1, 4 , Julie B. Schweitzer2 and Anita M. Oberbauer3

    (1) Department of Neurology, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA
    (2) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA
    (3) Department of Animal Science, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA
    (4) M.I.N.D. Institute, University of California at Davis, 2805 50th Street, Room 2415, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA

    Lisa Lit
    Email: llit@ucdavis.edu
    Received: 30 March 2010 Revised: 13 December 2010 Accepted: 14 December 2010 Published online: 12 January 2011

    Our aim was to evaluate how human beliefs affect working dog outcomes in an applied environment. We asked whether beliefs of scent detection dog handlers affect team performance and evaluated relative importance of human versus dog influences on handlers’ beliefs. Eighteen drug and/or explosive detection dog/handler teams each completed two sets of four brief search scenarios (conditions). Handlers were falsely told that two conditions contained a paper marking scent location (human influence). Two conditions contained decoy scents (food/toy) to encourage dog interest in a false location (dog influence). Conditions were (1) control; (2) paper marker; (3) decoy scent; and (4) paper marker at decoy scent. No conditions contained drug or explosive scent; any alerting response was incorrect. A repeated measures analysis of variance was used with search condition as the independent variable and number of alerts as the dependent variable. Additional nonparametric tests compared human and dog influence. There were 225 incorrect responses, with no differences in mean responses across conditions. Response patterns differed by condition. There were more correct (no alert responses) searches in conditions without markers. Within marked conditions, handlers reported that dogs alerted more at marked locations than other locations. Handlers’ beliefs that scent was present potentiated handler identification of detection dog alerts. Human more than dog influences affected alert locations. This confirms that handler beliefs affect outcomes of scent detection dog deployments.

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