You know the kind, the dog that stares at you after you give a particular cue, waiting to see evidence that you have a treat that they will get. If that evidence is shown, they respond to the cue. Otherwise, they high tail it off to investigate better options. A frustrating loop to find yourself in!
Likely the dog has learned that if there is no sign of an immediately available reward, that there will be no reward forthcoming. I'm certain that you didn't intend to teach this - but it happens fairly frequently without us being aware of it. The good news is - it is fixable.
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!
Our dogs can often find themselves in a similar position when we verbally tell them "no". Even if they have figured out that something they are doing is causing our reaction, it doesn't give them any instruction on what to do instead.
I try to remember this in the times that I either blurt out "no" in the moment (it happens, I'm human) or use a cue that I have taught such as "off" or "leave it" so that I can follow up with something to give the dog more information such as "let's go" if we're walking or "where's your toy" in the house.
Do you ever feel like sometimes an answer is presented just when you were asking the question? It happened to me recently. It had come to my attention that I didn't appear to be explaining one of the techniques I use in teaching loose leash walking very well.
As I was pondering how I could improve my explanation and better help more students Denise Fenzi of Fenzi Dog Sports Academy noticed someone leading their young horse. She noticed that when the horse got excited and started pulling, the handler guided the horse into walking in a circle. Once the horse settled a bit, they carried on in the original direction. Denise wondered if this technique could have applications in teaching dogs to walk calmly on lead and started trying it with her dogs and other dogs. The reports back were encouraging - it seemed to help a lot of dogs walk better.
Why? One possibility is that some common loose leash walking methods such as "Be a Tree" and "Penalty Yards" involve stopping, or backing up when the dog pulls. It is possible that some dogs find this stop in motion frustrating, leading to more straining forwards. Walking in a circle still allows the dog to move, so those dogs that feel so full of beans that they need to move their bodies can still move.
Most of the time, when I talk about manners at the door I'm talking about people coming to the door, or the dog bolting out the door, but in this case I'm looking at the dog's behaviour once they pass through the door. This topic is on my mind as Tristan has been charging out the door on alert for something in the yard recently. Once I recognized the pattern, I remembered Leslie McDevitt's reorienting exercise in her Control Unleased Book.
Tristan's behaviour at the door inside the house is fine, so I started working on his behaviour going through the door. Normally, you would just cue your dog that it is okay to pass through the doorway while standing still inside, wait for your dog to turn back curious about why you aren't moving, mark and reward. Continue to practice until it becomes a habit for your dog to check in with you after going through the door.