SNEAKY CUES #1: what’s your dog really paying attention to?
Updated: May 18
WildeBean is a master at pointing out all my flaws as a trainer, and I’ve been enjoying learning from her. Lately, she’s been highlighting the topic of cues for me, in really simple terms, so even I can understand. Here’s a recent scenario.
Throughout the winter, WildeBean likes to remain buried in bed under an avalanche of blankets, and is reluctant to get up for the first potty break of the morning. Who could blame her, with her skimpy chi-wow-wow coat and the frigid temps we’ve been experiencing?
In this particular context, there were numerous cues that informed her behavior of staying in bed instead of coming along with me:
Mom gets out of bed and dresses for first time in the morning.
Slavish Tavish dutifully follows mom straight to the back door (because he knows that breakfast is served after the potty break and he’s one perpetually hungry dude).
Mom opens door and says, “Bean, come.”
WildeBean's actual response to these cues: remain buried in bed.
Historically, the cue that actually got her to hop out of bed and join us at the door was the sound of my footsteps heading back to the bedroom. She’d learned rather quickly that a groggy, crabby, non-morning-person mom would rudely snatch blankets off a poor chi-wow-wow to get her out of bed.
This scenario bothered me on two fronts: one, I hate to repeat cues (whatever they happen to actually be), and two, I want to live by my positive reinforcement philosophy. So here’s how I turned this problem around and got WildeBean responding reliably and happily to a verbal COME cue in this context. (I want to mention that her response to the COME cue is stellar in many other contexts.)
A ceramic bowl of treats sits on my dresser. WildeBean knows this bowl well or, more precisely, she knows the sound of treat extraction from this bowl, from her PERCH training (described in this FB post).
When ready for the first potty break of the morning, I would give the cue, “Bean, come,” and then follow it with the cue she already responded eagerly to, which was the sound of my hand in the treat bowl. Once out of bed, she received one treat immediately, with a second delivered when she scooted her wildebody out the door.
Okay, so that’s a good start, but honestly it bugged me that I needed that blatant extra cue – the sound of my hand in the treat bowl. I wanted her bouncing out of bed just when I said, “Bean, come.” So here’s what I did:
I installed a hook near the back door and hung a treat pouch there. (Extra training tip: make things easy for yourself by setting up the environment to make training easier.)
At times of day when WildeBean wasn’t buried under blankets, and was just puttering around the house, I’d go to the back door, say "Bean, come," and then grab a treat from the pouch when she arrived.
Sometimes, I’d then toss additional treats out the door so she was enthusiastic about getting outside, no matter the temp.
Next, I practiced the same steps when I knew she was resting on furniture, but not buried under blankets.
Finally, I practiced the same steps when she WAS buried under blankets.
I’m happy to report she now comes reliably when I call her, even first thing in the morning when she’s in her wildenest. Good little Beener-reener!
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Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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