Dog’s Eye View: If only it were so
January 12, 2017
I recently traveled to Moab, Utah, for a few days of training in K9 Nose Work. We were working in an outdoor area by one of the motel chains there. We picked an area far enough away so we would not interfere with people coming and going. As one of our teams started their search, some of us noticed two dogs off-leash across the parking lot by the motel, and they were heading our way. My friend, Pat, crossed the parking lot and asked the owner to please put his dogs on-leash, as we were conducting scent detection training exercises. He replied, "My dogs are trained to voice control in three different languages. I don't need them on leash!" He was busy texting on his phone.
When she returned, several of us went on watch to make sure we could intervene if necessary. The man then got into his truck and drove to the other end of the parking lot, leaving one dog behind. I was standing there, somewhat astonished.
He stuck his head out the window and shouted for his dog to "Come." First language. His dog only stood there.
Then, he whistled. Second language. His dog only stood there.
Then, he shouted again, using his dogs name first. Third language. The dog walked a few steps closer, then spotted us and turned toward the dog conducting the search.
Then, the man started walking toward us whistling and shouting, and his dog finally returned to him. As if that weren't enough, when he got back to his vehicle, he turned out the other dog while he unloaded his truck.
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Then, I noticed another person who was staying at the motel bringing his on-leash dog out. The loose dogs began to approach the man with the on-leash dog, and I couldn't exactly hear what he said, but the guy on the phone said something that sounded like, "Don't worry, they're friendly." Just then, the dog on leash reared up and barked at the dogs that were getting in his face. The men had to pull the loose dogs off the dog on leash. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
A few minutes later, the man with his dog on-leash walked toward where we were training. I went to him and explained that we were doing scent detection training with our dogs and thanked him for having his dog on-leash. He expressed dismay at the fact that the other person did not heed his warning to keep his dogs away. I asked if his dog was OK, and he said, "Yes, this happens all the time. My dog is getting increasingly gun shy about other dogs. No one cares anymore."
I'm sure the man with his dogs off-leash has great voice control over his dogs in his house or yard. This is true for most companion dogs. Home is the place we communicate most. It's familiar and somewhat predictable. Home is where training starts. But generalizing that training to novel areas requires a lot more time and work. That's where training often falls short. Our expectation is that the dog should understand what we want, whenever and wherever we ask. If only it were so.
Asking your dog to generalize that communication to all conceivable situations is like asking a toddler to cross the street by himself.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.