All I have to do is let a knife hit a cutting board. My dog Bodhi can be three rooms away or playing with our other dog, but if he hears the sound of a knife on a cutting board, he comes flying.
I have never fed him food from the cutting board, dropped what I am chopping or let him lick the cutting board.
His enthusiasm stems from what the sound of the knife on the cutting board predicts. The smell of dog treats, sure, but more importantly: action.
Action is the most important thing to Bodhi. It’s more important than food, toys or affection. And when I chop treats, it means there is going to be exciting stuff happening. A field trip to go see his dog buddy. A training session to learn a new trick. A new friend coming over. Chopping treats is very special because it always predicts excitement to follow. (It helps that I rarely chop anything else on the cutting board; he does not react this way when the cook in the family chops!)
I wouldn’t have noticed this association, except I started to feel like I was in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Chop, chop, zoom! And there was Bodhi, practically standing on my head.
The moral of this story is this: You may wish your dog would respond to your call with more gusto. Or perhaps you’ve said, as many have, “She knows her name, but get her in [kryptonite situation] and she just won’t listen.”
These so-so outcomes result when we try to apply a training plan that sounds good to us, but leaves the individual dog out of the equation. Have you ever really considered (and applied to a training challenge) what your dog thinks is the greatest thing ever?
Just for fun, think about it. On an average day, what gets him really excited? It might not involve you! It might be gross! It might be something you can’t hold in your hand! Try to drop your own ideas of what counts as a reward, and really ask what your dog likes best.
Next, can you give him that, a version of it, or at least mimic it? Then all you have to do is make your come-when-called word the magic sound, the tip-off, the predictor that his favorite thing is about to happen.
It takes some creativity, and, if you’re like me, you’ll make mistakes along the way. When Bodhi was young it took me a while to figure out that something as intangible as action was what he loves best. Once I let him show me, though, we were in pretty good shape. I made a list of his favorite high action games, and started calling his name only when I had a plan to provide one of them. Whamo, association made.
What does your dog love to do? How can you provide that after you’ve called? Even if you try it just for a week or two, I bet you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes. Happy training!