Orienting towards sounds

The Games Dog People Play - in Germany

Hunt for sounds together with your dog by teaching him to have his eyes shut

Trainerin Simone Müller hält dem Hund die Augen zu

Hunting makes dogs happy!

Predation is a behavior chain consisting of several sequences that are intrinsically reinforcing for your dog and merge into each other: orientate, search, eye-stalk, chase, grab, kill and eat.

Orientation - The first sequence of Hunting Behaviour

The first part of the behavioral chain is orienting towards a stimulus. Your dog sees, smells or hears something that attracts his attention and he tries to locate where that stimulus is. Often we miss this first sequence of hunting behaviour and react much too late, when the dog runs off. In the process, we would have had the time to prevent our dog from hunting by offering him an alternative behaviour. If we specifically give our dog the opportunity to live out this first sequence of predation through Cooperative Hunting, we train ourselves to recognize orientation behaviour in our dog and we will be able to keep our dog from uncontrolled predation. Moreover, the intrinsic need of our dog will be met and he will not be constantly in search of acoustic stimuli.

"Blind Search" - a Hunting Game

In the game “Blind Search”, your dog learns to orient himself towards the sound of a falling treat and then to search “blindly” for it. To be successful, your dog must use both his ears and his nose. Too often, search tasks can’t really count as nosework because our dog sees from the beginning where the object of desire is hidden or thrown. However, covering your dog’s eyes is a trick that must be taught slowly and cautiously.

"Eyes shut" - A Test of Courage and a Vote of Confidence

As for us humans, visual perception is the most important sense for our dogs as well. If a dog voluntarily allows a human to cover his eyes, it is a great vote of confidence and a real test of courage! With this trick, you teach your dog that an unpleasant, aversive action, such as having his eyes covered, finally can lead to a positive consequence, like a treat search.

Informational Cue "Eyes Shut" - The Protocol

The important thing is that you do not simply overpower the dog, but instead announce the covering of the eyes beforehand. Nanook’s informational cue is “eyes shut”. Then I give him a second to adjust to what’s coming before I hold my hand up.

In the next step, it’s important NOT to put your hand on the dog, but to lure the dog into your hand with a treat. Give him the treat and then take your hand away from his eyes.

If you’ve repeated this so often that your dog knows what it’s all about, you can skip the treats and wait to see if your dog moves towards your hand by himself. You mark and reward this movement as long as the eyes are still covered. When your dog has eaten his treat, you take the hand away.

  • Info cue: “Eyes shut” – wait 1 second – hand moves to eye level of the dog (NOT towards the dog!) – dog moves his face towards the hand – eyes are covered – mark and treat – hand releases the eyes

If your dog reliably presses his eyes into your palm, then you can extend the time by delaying the marker signal.

A wonderful way to increase duration as taught by my Scottish colleague Claire Staines from Lothlorien Dog Services, is the method 300 Peck.

Now it’s time for the actual game: give your dog his info cue that you’re about to cover his eyes, throw a treat into fallen leaves or dry grass so that he has to orientate himself towards the sound of the fallen treat and let him search for it.

It's just a Game!

Many dogs find it creepy to have their eyes covered. In the video you can see that Nanook isn’t 100% comfortable with the the training of “Eyes shut”. Especially as soon as I leave out the treat, he’s showing signs of avoidance, like for example ears pinned back, panting, blinking or tongue flick. He does not really enjoy putting his eyes into my palm and needs some prompting to persuade him. Only in connection with the search game he is showing a joyful body language again. Having his eyes covered costs Nanook impulse control, so I only play the Blind Search occasionally. The “Blind Search” should always be enjoyed by both you and your dog, so if your dog really doesn’t like it, then do not force him! After all, this is just a game! Zum gemeinsamen Spiel gehören immer zwei und wenn dein Hund Meideverhalten zeigt und keinen Spaß an diesem Trick hat, dann zwinge ihn nicht dazu! Schließlich ist dies nur ein Spiel!

Cooperative Hunting makes you both a team!

Through Cooperative Hunting you have the opportunity to work your dog physically and mentally on his daily walks in a way that meets his canine needs. If your dog is allowed to excercise individual sequences of predation in a save environment, then he no longer has the strong need for solo hunting adventures and he can be better controlled in critical situations.
Through the joint activity that is highly rewarding and satisfying for your dog, he also links all the positive feelings with you. Instead of being the annoying factor that spoils the fun, you’re now the one who enables him to succeed in hunting. This has a positive effect on your relationship.