Thursday, December 5, 2013
Coming When Called Part One: Setting The Foundation
Any behavior that is not part of dogs’ natural behavioral repertoire has to be trained and rehearsed, and coming - when called and when they’d rather pursue their own interest, is one.
Teaching a dog to return on request is easier with some than with others, because our dogs come with a variety of personalities.
The “let’s work together” types are innately keen to hang out with you, and the “I am too scared to leave you” never go far. But even with them, the pleasers and the insecure dogs, I don’t take it for granted when they come cause I called them, and regarding the latter I actually want to instill more confidence, because anxious over-dependency is not a pleasant state of being.
Confidence and obedience don’t rule each other out, but dogs inherently self-assured are often also more curious, more adventurous and less dependent on you for safety, exacerbated if they belong to a breed that is more receptive to, and enticed by, environmental stimuli. They find the great outdoors marvelously interesting, with new things to discover and known experiences to relive – and then there is you: A boring, slow-moving, scent-dense human the pooch has around her all the time.
With those dogs, and the ones that have learned that it is the environment that facilitates stimulation because humans, in their past, didn’t, achieving a reliable recall can take a bit of effort.
Teaching a dog to come, like anything else you’d teach, begins at the place of least distractions and expands from there on out. In other words, training a dog to come when called starts at home, in the house.
Capture the behavior whenever your pooch is on her way to you. Chances are, your dog offers to join you numerous times a day because she wants to be with you, or wants something you have to give, including interaction and affection. Why would you ignore that? Don’t. Name it instead.
Call your dog often, and make it worth her while when she comes. Every time. Surprise her periodically with something extra special. I stayed at a B&B once that served a different breakfast each morning, and couldn’t wait to get of bed to find out what delicious food awaited me. I want that my dog can’t wait to get to me when I call her, and I set that stage in the house.
Do not punish your dog, ever, when she comes. Your proximity has to be your dog’s sanctuary. Yes, that includes when your pup brings you the new Italian leather pump she snatched.
A dog shoving something pilfered in someone’s face and not releasing it, but perhaps darting off with it, is neither disobedient nor dominant, but normal; it is a dog-typical behavior to initiate play. Be happy that your pup wants to play with you – it is the beginning of a bonded relationship.
If you scold and take the booty away, the pup learns two things: That you aren’t always a safe place to come to, and that bringing you a great find is a bad idea, and she’ll be more reluctant to repeat either in the future.
Instead, encourage your pup to come all the way in, make a big deal out of what she has in her mouth, and if it is something she shouldn’t, trade it for something appropriate, and then play with her for a bit to teach her that it is more fun when she chooses her own toy.
Our Will killed a hare a couple of years ago, accidentally, without a preceding chase. Dreadful? Yes, but it would have been worse, for me and Will at least, had she ran away with it. But she came when I called her, the unlucky rodent dangling out of her mouth, which she released it into my hands when I asked, and we left for the birds on the side of the path. That level of compliance began in the house, several years prior.
Do not call your dog and do something she doesn’t like, e.g. brushing, clipping nails, putting her in her crate because you have to go to work, and with some fearful dogs even putting the leash on.
But what if you have to? Realistically, unpleasant things aren’t always avoidable. Should you go to your dog? Get her? No, because then she’ll become suspicious when you approach and learns to evade you, also something I don’t want. For the interim, your best bet is prolonged interaction that feels good before you do what you have to do, but your long term goal should be to counter-condition so that what feels bad now eventually will feel good.
Only when, not before, your dog reliably, happily, without hesitation, comes each time when you call her, take the show outside.
With the “what can I do for you” personality type, and most puppies, that can happen fairly quickly, but don’t become impatient if your dog needs a little longer. Understandable, yes, but a dog that senses your frustration shuns you, and that’s exactly what you don’t want.