Last week, we talked about an easy way to begin making a BIG impact in your dog’s perception of recalls – using his food dish! If you have been doing this for the past week, you are likely noticing that your dog is looking for the dish before deciding to come. Alternatively, you may find that your dog is hovering near you instead of wandering off to play. Either way is fine, at this point, because NOW we are going to add in some variability to help associate the reward with the cue, rather than just the situation and context.
For starters, being to be a little sneakier this week – don’t let your dog see or hear you fill the bowl before going outside. Once you are outside, don’t let the bowl be immediately visible (hide it behind your back, or take the bowl outside and set it up high somewhere before you even let your dog out). For those dogs that are prone to hovering and waiting, get out and move around with them – encourage them to go explore and distract themselves (the more dubious dogs are probably already out there exploring).
Once your dog is mildly distracted (notice I said MILDLY – you don’t have nearly enough history to overcome a full on fence running or squirrel chasing level of distraction), we are going to give the cue – “Fido… COME!” (or “here”, or whatever you are using). The moment your dog LOOKS at you, mark that behavior with an enthusiastic “YES!” and then reveal the bowl of food. Though the enthusiastic “YES!” frequently results in forward momentum, we aren’t REQUIRING any forward momentum just yet. “Come” still equals unconditional access to the food bowl. We are just waiting a moment before presenting it, allowing Fido to indicate that he has heard the cue.
The idea this week is that the verbal cue, “Fido, COME!” results in a shift in your dog’s attention. Without the dish visible, he may not be ready to commit to a full recall yet, but we hopefully have enough positive history with the pairing of the verbal cue and the food dish that he is willing to look at you before deciding whether you have something of value. Remember – BABY STEPS! Especially if your pup has a consistent history of ignoring the recall cue (or, worse yet, has a very negative association with the word). If you aren’t getting a glance or an ear perk with the verbal cue yet, that’s OK! Present the dish anyway (just as we did in Total Recall, Part 2 - pairing “COME” with the rattle of the full food bowl) for another week or so before progressing.
Now, let's take this to the next level in Total Recall, Part 4: Commitment!