It’s easy to get frustrated when your dog doesn’t do what you ask. This is especially true if you’ve seen your dog respond to your request in the past. What do you do in these situations? What is the best thing to do?
A common phrase that we hear is “My dog will only respond if I have food.” This happens very often because people get out a piece of food, show it to their dog and then ask for a behavior. When this is what usually happens, it only makes sense to listen when he sees food first.
Naturally, a dog wouldn’t do a behavior unless there is a reason to do it. Sometimes the reason is that they see something and want to go investigate, other times it’s because they smell something. This all means that something is there right out of the gate to motivate them to do behavior. This is why they’re so good at responding when we hold the treat in sight.
Lets look at how we can change this and get our dogs to listen without seeing food first.
Use what is motivating in their environment
Most “bad” behaviors that our dogs do are the result of something exciting them in the environment. They pull on leash to greet the dog or they jump to get as close to the guest’s face as possible. If we manage correctly, we can get our dogs to do the behaviors we want for the environmental reward that they want. The behaviors we want are typically behaviors that are the exact opposite of what makes sense to our dogs naturally. This means we have to be very patient and consistent.
Get your dog use to responding without food in sight
We need to convince our dogs that there is a high percentage that something good will still come if they do a behavior without anything in sight. The easiest way to do this is to start off with a lure-reward method and then as quickly as possible, move to a hand signal-reward method. What this means is that for the first handful of reps, food is in sight. After you get about 5 really solid behaviors in a row, do a hand signal that looks similar to the food lure (but with no food in your hand) and then reward when the behavior occurs. This is our way of teaching a dog that if they respond without anything in sight, something good still happens. This is where it all begins.
The next step is asking your dog to do a behavior when he is just hanging out and not distracted by anything. Walk up, ask for eye contact and then pull a treat out of your pocket and reward. By doing this, your dog is now going to see you and think about doing behaviors without seeing a piece of food first.
Continue to reward
Finally, the behaviors we want to continue to see need to be rewarded the vast majority of the time. Without any rewards, our dogs will start to ignore us and then we're back at square one. By continuing to reward our dogs for doing behaviors, our dogs will stay motivated and will do the behaviors very quickly.
By Kevin Duggan
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