Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What Exactly Is LAT ("Look at That")?
LAT ("Look at That") is a powerful behavior modification method that works on changing a dog's emotional response. It was first introduced by Leslie McDevitt, a certified dog behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer. This method was first depicted in her wonderful book, Control Unleashed.
In this behavior modification method, the dog's emotions are kept in account. As humans, we are often tempted to correct the outward manifestations of aggression (e.g., the barking and lunging) when the issues are more inward.
The Fallout of Punishment
Correcting the aggression through punishment may cause the temporary suppression of the outward manifestation (no more lunging, barking), but the emotions remain bottled-up and are ready to escape at any time. This is often referred to as "punishment fallout," an instance when the aggressive behavior exacerbates and raises its ugly head again.
If you think about it, imagine being terribly terrified of spiders. Yes, arachnophobia at its best. You seek the aid of a therapist that exposes you to spiders. Every time you see a spider and you scream, he pinches your arm. At some point, you won't not only be scared of the spider, but you'll also be worried about the oncoming pinch. Not only that, but the spiders have now become a predictor of an upcoming pinch— not a nice cocktail at all! So, at one point, you learn not to scream.
Next, he puts a hairy tarantula on your arm. Just because you don't scream doesn't mean you're cured! Indeed, you may not have screamed, but most likely you were shivering, sweating, and your heart was pounding 200 beats a minute. Your phobia has increased, and now just a picture of a spider makes you freak out.
Now, imagine finding a different therapist. Every time he shows you a picture of a spider, he gives you a dollar bill. Picture after picture, you start looking forward to seeing spiders. At one point, he starts showing real spiders but now delivers you 10 dollar bills. You look forward to spiders thinking of all the great things you can buy at the end of the session.
As you are more accepting of spiders, he puts a hairy tarantula on your arm as you think in anticipation about the 100 dollar bill he'll give you for being so brave. OK, OK, this is quite a bit unrealistic, but you get the point.
Gentle Training Methods: A No-Brainer
Which type of therapist would you seek out? For sure the one doling out the money. When it comes to LAT, you will be playing the role of the good therapist with your dog. Best of all, you'll also instill a sense of safety and trust that will increase your bond with your dog.
Of course, again, in real life, you'll never find a therapist doling out bills left and right, but consider that in LAT you'll be delivering your dog the equivalent of doggie currency under the form of tasty, high-value dog treats.
What Type of Behavior Modification Does LAT Involve?
When you apply LAT, you're applying powerful counter-conditioning. Basically, you are working on creating powerful associations meant to change your dog's emotional response. Mary Cover Jones, the "mother of behavior therapy," used counter-conditioning to eliminate a phobia of rabbits in a young boy.
She basically moved the rabbit closer and closer as the boy was allowed to eat his favorite foods. At some point, the boy was even able to touch the rabbit as he looked forward to the food. In this case, a previously scary stimulus transforms into a pleasant predictor of good things.
The Power of Changing Emotions
In LAT, the same principle is being used, with a special emphasis on a dog's visual experience. There is also somewhat an element of operant conditioning here too since the dog learns to look at the stimulus and then may look at the owner for the treat. However, the most important aspect of LAT is that we're not asking for any particular behavior as we're dealing with changing emotions.
Basically, every time the dog looks at the scary stimulus, he is fed tasty bits of food. In my experience, in order for LAT to work best, the dog must be under threshold. In other words, it works best if used in conjunction with dog desensitization through gradual and systematic exposure.
Why is that? For the simple fact that when a dog is over threshold, in other words overly stressed, his digestive system shuts down, and a treat may be the last thing on his mind as more important bodily changes linked to survival go into effect.
If you were very scared of spiders and a tarantula walked over your arm, most likely you won't' be able to cognitively function. Good luck on solving a math problem in this state of mind! Same happens to dogs.
An Example of LAT (Look at That) Training
So, let's say you have dog fearful of umbrellas. To change his emotional response, you will need to first find very high-value treats, and then find a distance where your dog is capable of acknowledging the umbrella without appearing stressed and takes treats. To do this systematically, it's best to create set-ups; in other words, have volunteers with umbrellas walk at a distance.
As soon as the dog sees the stimuli at a distance, the dog is rewarded with tasty treats. Soon, the dog will create a positive association and will automatically look at the owner for the treat. I call this the "LAT Look"—you can visibly see the dog's expression change.
Variants of LAT include open bar closed bar, auto watches, click the trigger, and “Where’s the Dog,” as described in Patricia McConnell's Feisty Fido. The video on top demonstrates an example of LAT training. In many cases, LAT becomes a fun game the dog is eager to play as long as he's not pushed too far.
Always keep an eye on the dog's comfort levels, and if you see signs of stress or have a setback, take a step back and work on more distance.
The video below instead shows a pre-LAT session I once did with a Lab. This was one of my first behavior modification sessions early in my career, and the neighborhood was displayed in such a way that it was hard to find a way to keep things under threshold as there were dogs barking just everywhere.
Since the sight of other dogs aroused this Lab so much and so many were barking causing stress, we worked on "Hear That" (the auditory version of LAT) under threshold for a while before progressing to "Look at That."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Rosalind on July 10, 2020:
Thank you, thats a very helpful article, I'll definitely try those suggestions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 29, 2020:
Yes, definitely avoid the noisy tin as that does the total opposite: it creates negative associations and on top of that can make a dog sensitive to noises. LAT works well if your dog is fearful. If there is not much fear but more excitement as it can happen with dogs who want to meet every dog they see and bark out of frustration then it may help to train an alternate behavior (like attention heeling).For car chasing, you may find this helpful. Some collies are more predisposed to chase cars: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Stop-a-Dog-From...
Rosalind on June 29, 2020:
Hi, I've read your article with great interest. I have a 5 month old puppy, I got her at the start of lockdown but carried her for a walk every day til she had her jabs. As soon as I took her out on a lead she she barked at everything we passed and still barks when we meet people especially with dogs and also at random times which I can't fathom. Also when a car goes past she watches it and then pulls as it passes. I don't know what to do. She is a Collie cross. This seems the sort of problem which would be helped by your training method, my husband wants to scare her with a noisy tin each time she does it but I don't feel this is the way forward.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2019:
Thanks for stopping by anaseddiani, it's very rewarding working with reactive dogs and changing their emotions.
anaseddiani on February 28, 2019:
Good luck , i like what you do
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 30, 2018:
McKenna, good luck in using "Look at That" to train your dog. Keep me posted how it goes.
McKenna Meyers on May 07, 2015:
I will start doing this! Thanks. I'm learning a lot.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 15, 2014:
Happy to hear it's working out for you Marge. Look at my open bar/closed bar method as well. Follow me on pinterest for more articles on dog behavioral issues.
Marge on July 14, 2014:
My trainer gave me this link to your article and some of your other articles . I started applying LAT with my dog -aggressive dog and I am already seeing wonderful results. Thank you for sharing.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 11, 2013:
The other dog has to initially be at a distance where you're dog isn't likely to react, so he' under threshold. Every time he looks at the dog, feed high-value treats, when the dog is out of sight, nothing happens. If your dog reacts, you're too close for comfort, move at a farther distance. You want to modify emotions by letting your dog associate the sight of other dogs with treats. It takes time, but with persistence, you should be able to gradually have other dogs closer without reacting. The video shows how to apply this method correctly. Thanks for the votes up!
Mary Craig from New York on September 11, 2013:
So, when I take him for a walk I need to bring lots of treats. As a dog approaches us, give me a treat to distract him?
Voted up, useful, and interesting.