A Dog's Eye View: Getting what you don’t want

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Laura Tyler

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.

On occasion, I spend more time answering questions about dog training or behavior issues in the grocery store than I do buying groceries. If I have the time, I really don’t mind answering questions, but sometimes the questions deserve much more than a quick answer. Here’s one I heard the other day:

“My dog won’t come to me when I call him.”

Why won’t he?

“He got in trouble for chasing the neighbor’s cat again, and when he finally came back, I smacked him and dragged him back home by his collar. Boy, was I ever mad! He’s got to stop doing that or my neighbor is going to call the cops.”

Oh, boy.

So what your dog actually learned is that when you call him, he will be punished. So if I were the dog, I wouldn’t want to come when you called either. (Yes, I reserve the right to be blunt in the grocery store.)

What was he doing off the leash anyway? He is not reliably responding to verbal cues, so you’ve made a management and training mistake in trusting him off leash. On top of that, you’ve undermined the trust in your relationship with your dog by punishing him for coming to you. Remember, the dog connects his reward or punishment to the last thing he did. Coming to you was the last thing he did.

So it is possible that the words “Fido, come” have been poisoned. A negative association with those words and the tone of your voice probably will make the dog afraid or hesitant when you call him. You’ll have to start over by teaching him to respond to a different recall cue. Something like “Fido, over here” might work, but only if you begin by creating a positive association at a very close distance, such as three feet or less. He always must have joy in his mind when you call him to come to you. And do not let him off-leash until he is reliably trained. Would you give the car keys to your 7-year-old son?

So now what? How do you fix your relationship and repair the recall?

To teach a reliable recall, you must teach your dog to associate something pleasant or rewarding with coming to you when you call him. That sounds simple, but it’s not easy because humans are very inconsistent and easily distracted. You can learn to fine tune your training techniques by practicing consistency.

As we always say in our training classes, training is a process, not an event. A good family-oriented dog training class is a great place to start. But remember, training never ends. How long did it take you to memorize all those multiplication tables in school? And how many do you remember today? If you stop teaching, your student (the dog) will stop learning.

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. www.totalteamworktraining.com.

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