A Dog’s Eye View: Locate, lock, launch
October 25, 2012
I hear this complaint time and again: "My dog decides when he should come to me and when he won't, especially on the trail."
The first step in changing the dog's response is in understanding the motivation behind the behavior. Try to see what's happening from the dog's point of view. Trade places with your dog for a minute and imagine yourself in his world.
"I'm walking with my 'person,' and life smells really good! There's a rabbit and it's running away. Nothing exists that can possibly be more appealing than a running rabbit. My nose is filled with the scent. Every hair on my body stands up for the challenge. My energy soars, and the instinct to give chase rises within. It's building momentum by the millisecond. Nothing exists except the chase.
"I smell the scent of prey on the wind in my face. My whiskers are collecting the evidence I am getting closer to my prey. The biggest thrill of the day is taking place at this very moment. The adrenaline is surging and every other organ is sacrificing itself to fuel the hunt. I live for this moment."
Generally, by the time his "person" becomes aware of what's going on, it's too late to intervene. Timing is a skill, and a skill first must be acquired and then practiced regularly to obtain a level of proficiency.
To understand this kind of passionate reaction in human terms, think about being called away from a compelling conversation with someone deeply admired and respected. You might be wholly absorbed, body and soul. Your significant other might say, "Hey, come on, it's time to go." Not much chance you'd acknowledge that request with any enthusiasm or even hear it the first time. Being immersed in the moment, the conversation, the attraction, makes your ears close up and your vision and energy center on the person and the conversation taking place. For that moment in time, only a train wreck would take your focus away. By using this comparison, you'll understand just how difficult it is for your dog to choose between the coming back to you and the chase.
Just because the dog is released off the leash does not mean you should tune out. There has to be a plan for "out of nowhere." Developing the ability to anticipate takes increased awareness. Learning the unique signals each individual dog gives before making that critical decision is part of learning to read your dog.
Next week, we will see how to become more proactive in these types of situations. Developing more informed observational skills and quick timing will be invaluable in getting ahead of this challenging behavior. Once you learn how to recognize and react before you lose your dog's attention to the surrounding and tantalizing outside world, you'll be well on your way to controlling the environment rather than reacting to the behavior and excitement it offers.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
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