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Techniques for Getting "Sustained and Committed Eye Contact", How to "Modify the Cue for Eye Contact", and "Building Continuation for Eye Contact"

By Chris Bach and The Third Way - The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

Last time Chris taught her "Eye Contact Game" in a step-by-step format. This month Chris is providing her technique for getting "Sustained and Committed Eye Contact", how to "Modify the Cue for Eye Contact", and Chris discusses "Building Continuation for Eye Contact".

Technique For Getting Sustained and Committed Eye Contact

  1. To get committed Eye Contact it is necessary to present the food, move it away from the face, and simply let Pup glance back and forth between the food and face.
  2. Pup will decide to do one of three things:
    • DECISION #1: Stop glancing back and forth and commit to staring at the food. Trainer should immediately put food behind back, glance away from Pup and then immediately look back. DO NOT turn away indefinitely. This will frustrate Pup and Trainer might miss the opportunity to reinforce a correct choice.
    • Offer Pup food again. Respond according to where Pup decides to focus. If he chooses the food, repeat above instruction. Continue this sequence until Pup decides staring at the food is not worthwhile because it makes the food disappear. As soon as Pup makes Eye Contact, proceed with approximations that follow DECISION #3 below.
    • DECISION #2: Pup directs his attention to anything except Trainer or the food. STOP the game immediately and assess the situation.
    • Here are three options to try: (1) Eliminate the distraction, (2) Change the reinforcer, or (3) Quit the game altogether until another time or venue and play a different game.
    • DECISION #3: The desired response. Pup stops glancing back and forth and begins to stare at Trainer’s face. Wait about three seconds to be sure pup has truly committed and then I/R (indicate/reinforce) with multiple morsels. Follow this immediately by offering Pup the opportunity to make Eye Contact again and get even more food! Each successive time, Trainer waits to be sure Pup has decided to stop glancing and is committed to staring intently into her eyes.
  3. As soon as Pup no longer takes a few moments to glance back and forth between food and face, and immediately looks into Trainer’s eyes when food is presented to its nose, it is time to modify the cue and begin building continuation.

Modify Cue As Soon As Eye Contact Is Sustained And Committed

  1. Trainer modifies the cue by showing Pup the food, moving it out an arm’s length as before, but now immediately puts the hand behind the back so that the food is out of sight.
  2. Once Pup will make Eye Contact when the hand is behind the back and the food is not visible, the cue is further modified.
  3. Next step is to show Pup only the fingertips and NOT the food, and then move hand out at arm’s length and then immediately behind the back.
  4. Modifying the cue in this manner is very important so that Pup does not depend upon the sight of food to play the GAME.
  5. Rehearse the new cue sequence until Pup is reliable.

Once Pup Is Responding to the Modified Cue, Build Continuation

  1. Do three things to build CONTINUATION: a) Require Pup to sustain staring into eyes more intensely and for a few more moments before I/R, b) As soon as Pup has consumed the food, offer the opportunity to perform again. Pup should learn to gobble up the food and quickly look back in Trainer’s eyes as if to say, “THANK YOU VERY MUCH...IS THERE MORE?” c) Trainer introduces and clarifies the “release” contingency.
  2. Introduce “RELEASE” contingency by waiting for Pup to respond with Eye Contact when cued, but instead of indicating and reinforcing (I/R), Trainer throws her hands apart and says “OK” or “FREE” and then immediately looks away from Pup. (DO NOT follow the “RELEASE” with any type of reinforcement or celebration. It should be neutral. Pup is being “set up” to WANT TO CONTINUE, not want to stop!)
  3. Look right back at Pup to see his reaction.
  4. On the first three or four trials of the release contingency, if Pup tries to initiate the game again, Trainer immediately accommodates and plays the GAME again. When just learning THE EYE CONTACT GAME, it is very desirable for Pup to NOT WANT TO STOP and to initiate the GAME on his own.
  5. Once Pup has experienced being released three or four times, and still wants to continue, Trainer can require Pup to make committed Eye Contact for longer periods of time, or go on to something else such as playing or teaching a different behavior.

Once Pup is Maintaining Eye Contact Until Released

  1. This first session for THE EYE CONTACT GAME ends with a release and then Trainer does not make her eyes available to Pup for a while.
  2. From this point on, whenever interacting with Pup, it is a good idea to let him struggle to establish Eye Contact and I/R for doing so. Minimally, Trainer should at least acknowledge Pup by verbal praise and/or a smile. Trainer WANTS Pup to initiate Eye Contact as often as possible. The behavior should become habitual so it will also become the Pup’s default behavior.
  3. Always remember to release Pup before looking away. It is the only way that he will learn to be released on cue instead of on his own volition. This will become very important later on in Pup’s training.
  4. When Trainer is initially teaching THE THIRD WAY’S EYE CONTACT GAME, there should be specific training sessions. Work on teaching Pup the cue for Eye Contact and how they want Pup to respond to this cue. Also work on getting Pup to maintain Eye Contact until released.
  5. In addition, be aware of and respond with reinforcement any time that Pup initiates Eye Contact on his own. Stay on this program until Pup can be cued to make Eye Contact, reliably responds, and then maintains Eye Contact until released. THE EYE CONTACT GAME is an exercise that is always “in progress”. Promote it whenever interacting with Pup.


(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.