So you have a verbal cue that you want your dog to respond to without any additional signals – what do you do?
Ditch the Lure
Make sure your puppy/dog can respond to the verbal cue and signal without you holding any food in your hand. It’s hard to fade a signal if your dog is following a lure! Teaching your dog that responding correctly can cause you to produce a reward is an important lesson and can be helped by using a marker cue such as “yes” when your dog performs the action you will reward.
Talk First, Move after
Make sure you are giving your verbal cue (ie. “down” for lie down) PRIOR to moving your hand. Then give your down signal. What we are doing is setting up a chain “down” = hand signal = down action will be rewarded. Since our dogs are so tuned into our movements, if we give the verbal cue “down” at the same time as we move our hand to give the signal, the vast majority of the time the dog will perceive the signal and respond correctly without paying much attention to the word. In effect, presenting both cues at the same time allows the signal to overshadow the verbal cue. By presenting the verbal cue followed by the signal, we take advantage of our dogs tendency to anticipate once they realize that the word predicts the signal. This is a difficult step for us as a very verbal species!