Does this sound familiar? "Buffy....sit! Sit Buffy..SIT...SIT..SIT...SITSITSITSITSITSITSITSIT!!!!!!!!!" And there he stands, oblivious to your demands. What's wrong with him anyhow? Is he deaf? No, let me assure you his hearing is great. In fact, Cairns' hearing is incredibily acute. He hears you alright. But he isn't listening to you at all. Why? Because there's nothing in it for him to do so, and because, well, because he's a Cairn Terrier, with all the stubborn, independent, mischievous attitude that implies.
So what can you do? How do you get them to listen to you so that you can get them to do what you want, and sometimes absolutely need them to do? I've found a very effective technique, that is very simple to teach. It's the "Look At Me!" command. You see, before you can get most Cairns to do what you want them to do, you have to get their undivided attention. Not an easy task, as we all know how easily distracted they are and how focused they can become on heaven knows what...but certainly not on us.
The "Look At Me!" command is what I like to call an "interim command," in that its purpose is to redirect their attention from whatever they are focusing on in preparation for whatever follow-up command you want to issue to them. It can also serve as a very powerful "luring" technique (more about that later). What the "Look At Me!" command does is gets Buffy to, as its name states, LOOK at you. That's half the battle with a Cairn Terrier. And it's one you can win easily, I assure you.
Here's how to teach this simple, and very effective, command:
* Gather some "high value" treats (small bits of cheese, freeze dried liver, etc., something the dog LOVES that you reserve for training). Have them readily available in your pocket or the palm of your hand. Pick a quiet time, where there are no distractions and get Buffy to SIT.
* Once he's sitting, place the treat between your thumb and index finger, so a portion of it is showing, but the majority of it is firmly grasped between your fingers.
* Stand up reasonably straight, with just a slight bend at the waist (do NOT bend down at the knees, you don't want to be on his level)
* Place your fingers (with the treat, of course!) just beyond the tip of his nose and draw it STRAIGHT up to the tip of your nose from his. As you do so, say, in a firm and deep voice, "Buffy LOOK at ME!" (emphasis on the LOOK and ME).
* Because you've drawn the treat (which Buffy wants desperately) directly from his nose to yours, by necessity, his eyes will follow the treat toward your face. That's what you want to happen. As soon as your fingers with the treat touch your nose, and assuming his gaze has followed your fingers, tell him "GOOD BOY!" and give him the treat!
* Do this 3 times in succession, 3 times per day to begin. A total of 9 repetitions. Most Cairns will be so eager for the treat that they will begin anticipating the command by looking at your NOSE as soon as you begin to draw the treat from his nose to yours. THAT'S GREAT!
But remember to say (in your low, deep voice), "Buffy, LOOK at ME!" as you're drawing the treat toward your nose. When he focuses on it, hold it there at the tip of your nose for a few seconds. Tell him "GOOD BOY!" and give him the treat. Your goal is to get him to anticipate the command by following it immediately AND to lengthen the time he focuses on your nose before you treat him. Ideally, you can hold the treat at the tip of your nose for at least 3 seconds (count, 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000) and he'll focus on your face. He's looking at you.
Now that he looks at you almost immediately AND he watches you intently for 3 seconds, it's time to begin treating him randomly rather than every single time. Give him the treat 2 out of 3 times (or 4 out of 5), and gradually reduce the number of times you treat him until you no longer have to SHOW him the treat at all to get him to "LOOK at ME!" This will take a week or so of work, but believe me, it's worth every single 90 second interval that you do it. Always POINT at your nose, however, even if you don't have the treat. It will become sign language to him.
When the command is firmly established in his or her repetoire, you should be able to get him to sit and LOOK at YOU simply by pointing at your nose (if he's already looking in your direction). And if he isn't, by simply saying the command (in your best low register voice!). Now, here's how you use this command after it's entrenched. LOOK at ME! is what I refer to as an "interim" command. In other words, it should be used as a bridge between a dog's not paying any attention to you whatsoever and the command (or direction or behavior) that you WANT him to perform. It can be used to calm an overly excited dog.
And, as I indicated earlier, it's a GREAT way to "lure" a Cairn. What do I mean by "lure" him? Well, here's a true story. My Cairn, Max, began exhibiting strong signs of wanting to chase cars at a very early age. He'd tug and lunge on his leash whenever a car would approach us on our daily walks through the neighborhood. I tried all the "tried and true" training techniques for breaking a dog's car chasing tendencies. His obedience trainer instructed me to use the "leash correction" on him. I did. It not only didn't stop him, it made it worse. I tried the alpha roll. Another dead end. I tried verbal corrections again to no avail. I had friends drive by and pitch coin-filled soda cans out the window as they passed Max and me. They thought I was crazy, the neighbors were sure of it, and Max was more determined to lunge at the passing cars than ever. His behavior was escalating rather than diminishing.
Frankly, I was desperate. So, in the true spirit of desperation, I changed courses entirely. I decided to change from negative training, which all the other techniqes were, to a positive approach. In other words, I decided, out of sheer desperation, to REWARD good behavior rather than trying to correct/change unwanted behavior. I resorted to the LOOK at ME! command I'd taught him as a very young puppy. I loaded up with high-value treats and we set out for our walk. Since we live in a surburban neighborhood with many winding streets, you can hear cars coming before you can see them. As soon as I'd hear a car approaching, I'd give Max the LOOK at ME! command and I'd move the treat from the tip of my nose to approximately 1/2 way between his nose and mine. As the car came closer, I'd repeat, "Max, LOOK at ME!" with the treat closer to his nose. As soon as the car passed, I'd exclaim "GOOD BOY!!!! and would give him the treat immediately. The trick, I soon learned was to gain his attention with the "LOOK at ME!" command, hold his attention by showing (luring him with) the treat, then REWARDING him immediately through praise and the treat when he did NOT lunge at the car. Rather than having him continue to SIT while I was "luring" him with the command and the visible treat, I began really luring him with it as I kept walking while keeping the treat out in front of him. I kept PRAISING him as he continued to focus on the "lure" of the treat rather than lunging at the car. And, as before, I'd give him the treat as soon as the car passed us.
To my amazement, it took only about 4 or 5 cars worth of high-value treat luring before I saw how a Cairn mind works! I heard a car approaching and I immediately gave the "LOOK at ME!" command, with the treat at the ready. I saw Max quickly look toward the car and then back at the treat...and I could see he'd made his decision. The treat was worth more to him than was the car. We were over the hump! Within 2 or 3 days, Max would immediately LOOK at ME! as soon as he heard a car in the distance. I began gradually (and randomly) reducing the times I gave him a treat, until, in a few more days, he didn't get treats at all and he was no longer interested in trying to chase cars. I have since used the same technique to redirect his desire to lunge at and chase bicyclists and motorcycles. I also use it to distract him from other dogs while we're out on walks. I have taught this command to every one of the 10 fosters I've had, and they've all learned it quickly and effortlessly.
It's truly a wonderful training technique for your Cairn and can be used for so many things. I use it all the time when I want to teach him a new behavior, or when I simply want to gain his attention. Every now and then, when I issue the LOOK at ME! command, I'll surprise him with a treat, just to keep the command interesting to him. Try it with your Cairn.
And good luck.
Michele CRM 2/5/05