In my last column, I discussed why the recall (calling a dog to come) is so challenging for most dogs.
Often it is human error that causes a dog’s recall to become unreliable because we unwittingly set our dogs up for failure rather than success when we call them.
The biggest way we fail our dogs is through our lack of leadership – in other words, how we lead our dogs throughout the day.
Being a leader is not about being “the boss” or “the alpha.” Rather, it’s about being someone who takes responsibility and offers consistent guidance and direction to ensure the success of a given outcome. When we take charge and insist that our dog sits before it rushes out the door, for example, we are setting a boundary of respectful behaviour. This boundary prevents the owner (or a child) from being knocked down and prevents the dog from running into the street or startling a person on the sidewalk or running away. We’re not only teaching the dog to be polite, but also to trust that our way is the best way.
The more you are able to consistently teach your dog that your way is the best way, the more your dog trusts you because there is always a successful end result. The more success the dog achieves, the more positive admiration the owner bestows on the dog. The more the positive admiration the dog receives, the more it will repeat the owner’s requests because it now views the owner as a competent leader and seeks the praise and rewards.
Teaching a dog to be polite and respectful and wait for dinner, not rush out the door or pull on the leash, etc., are not the only leadership skills we need to show our dogs. We also have to show indifference. Being indifferent and ignoring our dog is probably the hardest leadership skill for people to adopt, yet the most effective because it places value on our leadership. We all love our dogs and they are all worthy of our affection, but we are careless with our affection and often unwittingly give it to our dogs at the worst times, which reinforces wrong behaviour.
Now let’s not get our knickers in a knot here. I am not suggesting we emotionally isolate our dogs. Rather, we should be aware of how and why we are loving upon our dogs.
Argus is a four-month-old chocolate Lab who had his owners perfectly trained to come when called, but when let off leash he would run away very fast. In the house, whenever Argus barked, the family came running.
“What’s up Argus, what do you want?” they would ask as if he were Lassie (Google it). Argus would continue barking until someone gave him something: a treat, a toy, a walk, dinner. Whatever he wanted he got. Once he got it, he would run off into his crate and ignore the family until he wanted something else. The family had one purpose, which was to serve him. And they did it well!
My job was not to teach him to come, as they wanted, but to teach them to ignore Argus. When Argus barked for anything, he was ignored until he was quiet and lying down. When he was quiet, a family member went to Argus, asked him to sit, gave him affection, then left him alone.
In a very short time, Argus stopped barking and started to watch his people instead of evade them. He sought their attention in quiet ways and when they called him he came immediately because it now meant that he was going to get the attention he wanted. With Argus seeking their affection instead of demanding their attention, we could now effectively teach him a recall exercise.
Teach your dog that you have value by ignoring its demands for attention. If it barks at you, assertively invades your space, or shoves toys at you, get up and walk away without a word. But when your dog is quiet and approaches peacefully with soft eyes seeking attention or gently rests a head on your lap, acknowledge it with affection and praise. When this happens, you can then begin to teach a reliable recall. My next column will be the first lesson.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at email@example.com.