While feeding the girls this morning, Pais plopped her behind right in front of the fridge blocking my ability to open it. She’s done this before. I usually open the door a crack, she sees the movement and moves. This morning I grabbed the handle and waited a beat. She moved.
Dogs lives are relatively boring, a lot of long hours with nothing to do but watch us or their environment. When it comes to watching us, they’re experts. We’re in the zoo and they’re studying our behavior. They know our habits and our patterns and learn to anticipate what we do. When your dog reminds you it’s dinner time or time for a walk, you know they’ve got your number.
The cool thing is, we can use this anticipate to train cues. Like Pais and the fridge, I could use her anticipation of the door opening, which made her move, to put it on a verbal cue. She stood up and moved backwards and to the side, which is a pretty snazzy move! Let’s say tomorrow morning she does the same thing. I’d touch the refrigerator handle, she’d move and I’d say, “Good” or have a few treats ready for her. Since actions are more likely to be repeated if rewarded, not only would she remember the movement, she’d be more likely to plop her behind in front of the fridge again so she can move again. After a week or so of repetition, I could put it to a word. Since the current cue to move is touching the refrigerator handle, I’d say “snazzy,” as I touch the handle and after a lot of snazzy repetitions, I’d drop the handle touch all together.
In training language this is called “capturing,” you are capturing the whole movement or behavior, in this case, standing and moving back and to the side. If you can anticipate your dog doing something, anything, you can put it on cue by saying a word right before it happens and praising after it stops. Does your dog always sit while you’re cutting veggies? Say “Sit,” as they’re doing it and then either say “good” or toss them a small piece of veggie. Does your dog put a paw on your knee when they want attention? You can say “knee” as you see them starting to lift their paw, say “good” when it gets placed and then give them the attention as the reward.
Using this dance of habits (your dog anticipates you and you anticipate your dog,) means you just need to observe your dog for a few days. It’s also helpful if you can observe yourself to see what they are anticipating. Like touching the refrigerator handle, if you can figure out what the existing cue is you just have to add a word while you’re doing it. What do they always do that you can put on cue? There’s bound to be a few sits and downs in there. Going to their bed, cute dancing while you’re preparing their food or grabbing their favorite toy can all be put on cue if you can anticipate when they happen.
Catch your dog doing something fun!