Making memories – POSITIVE memories – takes time and repetition. If your pup has a history of tuning you out, or worse yet, perceives recalls as a NEGATIVE thing, it will take some time to begin to “overwrite” that history. One easy way to approach this is to use your dog’s dinner as his reward – bowl and all!
When it’s dinner time, and your dog is at his hungriest, let him outside (or take him out on a long line). After he has had a few minutes to explore, bring his dinner out with you. Wait for a moment when your dog is bored, between activities, or is looking to you. Call your dog, then gently rattle his food dish. Chances are he will come running! As soon as he arrives to you, put the dish down for him, and throw him a party! That’s it – one repetition. Fido doesn’t even have to DO anything at this point to gain access, he just needs to hear you say your verbal cue (“Fido, COME!”), and then see and hear the presentation of the dish. The more distrustful dogs may not be willing to approach you to get to the dish. If that’s the case, it’s OK to back off a few steps to allow your dog to get to the food without fear of being “snatched”.
This first phase of creating a positive association with the verbal cue may go quicker for some dogs than for others. You will know you are ready to move on to the next step when you begin noticing your dog is more willing to approach you to eat from the dish with you standing there, or the more trusting dogs may even begin to offer to come immediately when called. Others may not even want to leave you, instead hovering near you and waiting for the opportunity to eat. Any of these outcomes is fine at this point. We just want the pup to understand that COME = dinner. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unconditionally. Once your dog has that understanding, then we can begin the process of creating some variability to make sure Fido recognizes the cue itself, and not just the context/situation.
Next up: Total Recall, Part 3: Recognition