Feisty Fido, Prompts and Lures in Dog Training, Advanced Canine Behavior DVD

Karen London and I are revising Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash Aggressive Dog, and I find myself fascinated by how perspectives and techniques change over time. We’re not changing the essence of the booklet, far from it, but there are a few things that are being modified because of our experiences and gains in knowledge since we wrote it.

Most of the booklet will remain the same–especially the emphasis on teaching an incompatible behavior when a dog barks, lunges or behaves problematically toward another dog while on a walk. But we are modifying some of the advice, and I’m interested in your experiences related to our recommendations.

First off, we are putting less emphasis on the importance of teaching “Watch” to mean “turn and look at me UNTIL I RELEASE YOU.” For those of you not familiar with the booklet, the first step in a Feisty Fido program is teaching a dog to turn his head toward you and look at your face when you say “Watch.” Once this is mastered in an area with few distractions, the owner tells the dog to Watch every time he sees another dog, working up to a dog who “AutoWatches” every time he sees another dog on a walk in the neighborhood. This not only teaches an incompatible response to the sight of another of the same species, it classically conditions a dog to feel relaxed and happy at the sight of another dog (changing “Oh NO!” into “Oh boy!”).

Over the years we’ve found that most owners have more trouble with the release than the cue Watch itself, and most importantly, that most dogs don’t need to stay fixated onto their owner’s faces until they hear “okay.” After all, if they turn and look away from the approaching dog and get reinforced, what’s the problem with looking back at the other dog and providing another reinforcement opportunity when Watch is said again? Granted, there are some dogs who need to keep their eyes on their owner’s faces–the ones whose response to the sight of another dog is totally out of control for example, but most dogs do just fine if you teach them that the sight of an unfamiliar dog is the cue to look toward your owners and get a tasty treat or a session of play.

The other modification of the booklet is an emphasis on dropping out prompts or lures early on, in order to avoid a smooch or a hand movement from becoming the cue (instead of the word Watch). We wrote Feisty Fido in 2003, six years ago, and since then we’ve become much more cautious about owners inadvertently teaching a dog that the cue to turn your head is a smooch or a movement, rather than the word watch or an approaching dog itself. It’s so easy to say “Watch” and encourage what you want with a smooch or a movement and end up undermining the power of the cue you want to use. In the new version of Feisty Fido, we advise people to see first if their dog will turn his head just to the sound of the word itself. If that isn’t effective, we suggest prompting (with a smooch to get the dog’s attention for example) or luring (by moving food a few inches from the dog’s nose and luring it toward your face) three times in a row, and then saying “Watch” all by itself and waiting at least 3 seconds for the dog to turn toward you (and then JACKPOT if he does!) This is effective for all but the most distractable of dogs (note one is doing this at the first stage of training in an area with no or few distractions, and never around another dog!).

Those of you operant trainers know that in a ‘purely’ operant modality one would not use a prompt or lure at all, and merely wait for the dog to turn his head toward the owner. In my experience, this requires far too much time and patience for most people (okay, you’re right, ‘most people’ includes me), and that doing something to help the dog get reinforced early on is productive. However, as I learn and grow, it is increasingly clear how careful we must be to not let prompts or lures become the cue themselves. When I read what we wrote in 2003, I can’t help but want to revise it.

Of course, I want to revise just about everything I write as soon as it comes from the printer. I am lucky in that early on in my career, I heard Terry Ryan say that every author has to be prepared to disagree with something she wrote as soon as the ink dries. Oh my was she right. I’ve gone back and looked at things I wrote twenty years ago and… well, never mind.

Speaking of a long time ago, we’ve had a sale on the Advanced Canine Behavior Seminar DVD and it flew off the shelves. It was recorded in 2001, and I have to admit I’m curious about what’s on it! I swear I don’t remember… If anyone has watched it and wondered: “Does she do that anymore….” or something similar, don’t hesitate to ask in a comment. Someday I’ll get the nerve up to watch it myself.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, it’s summer now, humid but still rainy, green and lush and fertile. The peony flowers are falling apart, looking like blousy ‘ladies of the evening,’ with too much make up on. The daisies are rioting white and yellow and the wild black raspberry bushes are full of tiny fruit buds. Willie and Lassie were so glad to see me when I got home Tuesday night from Maine that I’m still all oxytocin-y about it. Martha the older ewe still isn’t right, even with a different anti-biotic and wormer, but her lamb is thriving, as are all the lambs, who doubled in size for the five days that I was gone. Okay, maybe not quite that much. Jim finished the carport beside the garage, and it looks stupendous. What a guy. I may be able to turn around a problem dog, but anyone who can build an entire wooden structure that doesn’t fall apart in a few days is a miracle worker in my opinion.

After all that I should send you photos of the farm, but I haven’t taken any since I got back. Here are two photos from New Hampshire, one of Squam Lake (of “Golden Pond” fame) and one a typical forest stream that feeds the lake. They make me smile just to look at them, remembering how peaceful they are in person. What is it about water that is so relaxing?


  1. Cynthia says

    My dog Dottie is on the “Feisty Fido” program, and it’s definitely helping, slowly but surely. I totally agree that the release was the toughest part. When she would look away before the release, I would spend a few precious seconds thinking about what to do besides just ask for another watch. Meanwhile I had lost her attention and we had to back up and start over.
    I don’t know if this would work for everyone, but I stopped using watch and just started using her name. This helped a lot since I have two dogs to walk at once, but the other one is not leash-reactive. I don’t really need both of their attention, but I didn’t want to confuse my other dog with a watch command. In every other context, I want her name to mean “look at me” so I figured it would work for this too, especially since I stopped using the release.

  2. Susan Mann says

    If you’re revisiting the book, you might want to reconsider the autowatch, or add in a different option. One think I like is teaching the dog to “Look at That” instead of NOT looking (looking at you). Dog gets clicked for looking at the scary or exciting thing, then turns back and gets the treat. Then you can build up how long the dog looks at whatever (and can additional treats as well, for additional classical conditioning effect) and eventually the dog starts looking at whatever bothers it in the environment, giving you more information about what is going on. I first heard of this from Sue Alexander, and its since been written up and is one of the mainstays of the Control Unleashed (Leslie McDevitt) program. I love everything you write, this is the one thing I would love to see you add!

    I love water, too, and yes it is relaxing! My mother loves beaches, but I love streams and rivers, especially in the woods.

  3. Kate says

    It’s interesting what you say about other cues weakening the meaning of the actual command. That’s one of my big challenges right now. It’s almost like I tell them what to do, and they wait for “go!” in my saying their names or using my “oops” word. It drives me batty, but I know I’ve reinforced this. Looks like I have a job to do over the next few weeks, especially after you make such great points about it.

    I love your blog. You always make me think, and on such great topics. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us!

  4. Trisha says

    To Susan: Great minds! Although I didn’t mention it specifically, that is another section that we are modifying. In the first version of Feisty Fido we say that you can also teach “Where’s the Dog?” but only in a small percentage of cases. Well, that was then… but this is now. That’s exactly what I used with Willie once he had Watch down pat, and I’ve found it very useful in a wide variety of cases. Leslie McDevitt and I had a great discussion about it when she sent me her book, and I too think it’s a very good idea in many contexts. The second edition of Feisty Fido will be out soon… I’ll keep you all posted. Thanks for adding in your voice and excellent suggestion!

  5. says

    I work for a rescue organization and used your Feisty Fido booklet a lot in rehabilitating reactive dogs. I agree with Susan, though. I made the experience that I could get the auto-response by letting the reactive dog look at the stimulus and then turn to me voluntarily (deceasing the distance over time), it worked much better than prompting them with the Watch cue and then they would release themselves and sometimes explode because the scary dog came closer while they were watching me. Most dogs seem to be calmer if the can look at the stimulus and then decide themselves when they can look at me. I get the all rolling by using their name, since that is supposed to get their attention anyway.

  6. Kate says

    Trisha, do you also have plans to update the Dog-Dog Aggression DVD (also recorded in 2003)?

  7. Trisha says

    Kate: Well, thanks for asking! Tawzer Videos will be taping a new 1/2 seminar specifically on leash-reactive dogs (responding to other dogs) that will include Watch, Where’s the Dog, a discussion re CAT and other updates. The seminar will be held July 12th in Arroyo Grande, California. Go to http://www.gentlepets.com to learn more about it (and the 1/2 day I’ll be doing on Play: What it is and how to use it to train, rehabilitate and reinforce your relationship.) I’m working on these new seminars now and am truly looking forward to them (so thanks for asking!) Hope to see some of you there. If you do read the blog and come to the seminar, come up and say hi. The DVDs will be available as soon as Tawzer and I can get them out!

  8. Susan Levin says

    It would be hugely helpful to me if you could include some advice for those of us with dogs that weigh almost as much as we do. I have a 2.5 year-old neutered Leonberger who seems to be growing more and more reactive. To control him on leash can take both hands and all my attention. I have the booklet and video but the dogs are half the size of mine. It just seems like the big guys need different techniques. And I’ve done something wrong because rather than look at me when he sees another dog, now when I say “Watch” he starts looking around to see what he’s missed. Arrgghh!

  9. Ellen Pepin says

    I live in a suburban/urban area near Annapolis, MD, and we have just adopted a 3 year old collie from a rescue group. Our biggest problem is that she lunges and barks at cars. I have started teaching the Watch command. At the suggestion of the behaviorist we brought her to, we are also using the Snoot Loop head collar. She is pretty good with the command if things are calm. However, all it takes is a truck to really set her off. Then it is almost impossible to get her to stop barking and look at me.

  10. Liz F. says

    Good to know that the release for “watch” isn’t always as important as the initial command/response. When on walks, my reactive guy stays calmer if we remain in motion. If I stop walking to ask for a “watch” and release, autowatches become fewer and watch itself becomes more difficult. Seems like when we’re stopped he feels more vulnerable and distractions have more power- oooh maybe I can scent mark here quick or sniff the lamp post or focus on the incoming dog and owner.

    If we continue walking, however, I usually get a great autowatch and my dog remains pleased as punch. But, the release has proved tricky when moving because I often look away from my dog to see where I’m going, so I just dropped it out entirely.
    Always felt like I was kind of cheating when not releasing him formally, but for us it has been effective arousal management even without a verbal release. Maybe he construed my looking away as the release? Or maybe the reward became the release?

    Any way, Thank you for a great solution to a really frustrating problem… both myself and my dog now say “Oh boy” instead of “Oh no!”

  11. Linda2 says

    I’ve read the book and love the easily digestable format, and exercises, watch and turn, though like some others I do not use the release. mainly I do not need, essentially, total control over my dog , I do need him though to control himself. primarily because, some of stuff he does is not so good. I found the easy walk harness is a good way for an average strength female to control an agressive puller, a determined 26 pounder, the snoot loop though , I feel has some mechanics/ dynamics problems, mainly because of it’s design, (like a horse harness) considering forces, distances and the speed a dog can turn it’s head, in addition to the length of the lead, might possibly be okay for the largest of dogs where these factors would work in the handlers favor, like on a horse. I found mainly through a myriad of trainers, etc. that if you are using an excess of force with any technique or device, it’s more than likely you are doing something wrong, just ask anybody that’s been poked or prodded enough, they likely remember who did the poking and prodding, and not in a good way

    as far as the book goes, I think the information dogs get from looking at us is tremendous and a short look like checking in will do, the turn works well too, always something you need to avoid, I would add that it may be good to have a “when all else fails” keep going or just “speed up” like what Liz said, I find my dog does this naturally in some instances, and it works for me too. Anytime I can work with his actions and not against them with good results is good for me, then shape & fine tune.

  12. Ignacio says

    I still remember one English teacher in college that said that the best writers are actually the best re-writers. It takes so many rounds!

    Please let us know once the revised version is ready, I’ll be first in line to get a copy, because I really need it!!

  13. Dana says

    I love those changes to Feisty Fido! The watch-until-released concept is great in principle, but you’re right that it’s difficult in practice! I love Leslie McDevitt’s Look at That game, and our Growly Dog program has seen terrific success with that method, although we incorporate a lot of the other Feisty Fido exercises into our program. I’m really looking forward to reading the revised version!

  14. Emily says

    I would also love to hear as soon as the revised Feisty Fido is available! My Border Collie mix is not dog-aggressive off leash and only occasionally on leash, but I’m noticing it more now. Specifically whenever we go to his agility class. He’s fine with 90% of the other dogs but there is always one that will set him off. I have him on a gentle leader head collar which helps control him if he goes on a barking/snarling/lunging rampage but I’d really like to avoid these outbursts to begin with. I’ll pick this up as soon as you post your new edition! Thanks!

  15. Liz F. says

    Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, describes how people by and far select a landscape containing water as the most beautiful.
    The theory is that the idyllic landscape triggers relaxation & appeases us because these places have been essential to our survival as a species. (favorite landscape also includes rolling hills, some open areas, and trees with low branches to quickly scurry up)
    Really interesting book, links creativity to survival. Bowerbirds are also discussed for those interested (only non-human animal thought to make ‘art’)

  16. JJ says

    I’m a big fan of yours. I’ve purchased, read and watched most of your books and DVDs. I recently purchased the Advanced video. I appreciate you putting it on sale because that was the only way I could afford it.

    So far, I’ve watched all but the last disk in the Advanced DVD. I notice a lot of overlap in the various DVDs, but I still like to watch them because there is often some sort of expansion on a topic in one DVD that was only touched on in a different one, and I hadn’t understood the point without the expansion. I also like to watch them all because you are very entertaining (thank you) and hearing the same information repeatedly is good because it helps me to remember.

    Question: In the Advanced… DVD, you mention that Cautious Canine is the booklet that you are most proud of. I was just curious if that was still true. And since you were re-writing Feisty Feido (which I have even though Duke doesn’t fit–I got it for knowledge), I was wondering if you had plans to re-write Cautious Canine and if so, what kind of information you might change/change emphasis.

    Thanks for all your hard work and good information. – JJ

  17. Ed says

    I lapsed into the same “alternative” as Bettina Alfaro. And I will let my reactive dog sniff the ground or do some other quiet behavior if I suspect she needs a moment to get it together. (Plus, there’s a 90% chance she’s staring at my face if she’s awake and I am not so far away as to be below the horizon.)

    I’ll get the new version as a refresher training for me.

  18. Allison says

    I can’t wait for the new one! Hey…is that why the original is now on sale on Dogwise? 😉

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