Total Recall

“I’ll be back.”  – Schwarzenegger  

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, a client and I both decided to do some work with our dog-reactive dogs.  We were in the Metroparks walking a lovely path, both our dogs on leashes.  Across the field I suddenly saw a black lab running towards us.  I shouted out to the owner (who was standing idly by with noting less than a bovine look on his face) that our dogs weren’t friendly.  He commenced trying to call his dog back, to no avail.  She charged us (obviously only wanting to play).  She headed straight towards Sparta, who was in no mood for her form of play.

 

Fortunately, I was able to control Sparta, and Pilot  her through her questions. Not how I wanted to start my morning, though.  Eventually I had enough control of the situation that I could Pilot the errant dog enough to pick of their leash, and calmly walk both Sparta and the Lab over to the Lab’s owner.  I brusquely handed him his dog’s leash, stating firmly that that was the part one holds.

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have no patience for for the ill-trained beasts running mindlessly around the Metroparks… and their dogs are not much better.  Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to control my dog.  However, if Sparta is on a leash, walking nicely with me, and we are suddenly charged by a dog, even a friendly dog, who is off-leash…there isn’t much to be done.  I Pilot as best I can in that situation, as described here.  Damage control is more like it.

Now, back to the Lab who charged us.  Her name was Abby.  I know this because her owner was incessantly calling it to no avail.

Obviously there was quite a bit of recall issues going on.  The dog had no idea what the “come” command meant.  Abby knew  that she was the Pilot, not the human, and therefore “come” was merely a suggestion.  Which was promptly ignored. It was pretty much a “Stop or I’ll Say ‘Stop’ Again” situation from the human.

So what should have been done in this situation?  Prep work.  One doesn’t just let a dog off leash without working towards total recall first.  How to do it?

Start in a very boring, low-key situation.  The dog park is not the place to start working on the come command.  Your house works best, beginning with the dog a few feet from you. Squat down, and while patting your hand against your leg the entire time, simply repeat the word “come” over and over, in your normal voice.  Yes, this is a command, but barking “come” at your dog will have the opposite effect desired.  Utilize Touch, Talk, Treat (calm petting, gentle praise and a treat) when your dog arrives to you. The object is to look non-threatening when you call your dog, so save the strong, dominant body language for other uses.

If your dog doesn’t come to you, stop calling them, silently stand up and walk towards them, take them gently by the collar and tug, tug, tug them back to where you had initially called them, repeating the word come, come, come the entire time you are tugging them.  (NOTE:  tugging is essential.  Do not drag your dog.)  Practice over and over, gradually adding distance between you and the dog.

To work on recall outside, start with an enclosed area:  your backyard, if possible.  Repeat the steps above, but remember, we’ve not added more stimuli.  There are birds, squirrels, noises… you may lose your dog’s focus and they may not come at all.  Instead of getting angry, shouting or yelling, instead calmly stalk your dog.  Silently walk directly towards them.  They will dart in another direction.  Simply change your course and continue to stalk them from location to location.  This takes time and patience, but what you are doing is setting up the stage for future confrontations such as these.  Your dog’s question is: Can I ignore your request?  The answer is “no”.  You must follow through with this answer.

Eventually you will be able to catch your dog.  Resist the urge to punish: it is the worst thing you can do at this point.  Simply tug your dog back to where you first called them, and offer Touch Talk Treat.

An easy way to help with this is to attach a long, cotton rope (like a clothesline) to their collar.  Tie a few good sized knots throughout the rope.  Let your dog wander around, dragging the rope with the knots behind them.  When you call them, and they don’t come, you have an easy way to catch them: simply step on the rope (a knot will catch at your foot) and reel them in like a fish, repeating the word “come”.  Touch Talk Treat when they arrive. Once they get good at recall, gradually start cutting the rope into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s no longer there.  That way your dog will never realize that suddenly they are no longer attached to it.

This is an important command; maybe even a life or death command.  Practice, practice, practice.

I still work on this command with Sparta and Orion.  I will work on it until the day they are no longer mobile.  Both have wonderful recall, but…

I will never let Sparta off leash.  She is a lovely, well-behaved, obedient girl, but she is still a dog; one who has dog reactivity.  She is not a machine.  She was bred to protect (or so she thinks), and protect she does.  She isn’t perfect, and the one time she decides to ignore my command could end with tragedy.  So why do I do all this practice and prep work?  Because I’m not a machine either. I’m not perfect.  I may slip up, drop the leash, or fall down.  She may find a hole in our fence that never existed before.  I work on it because I love her and want her safe.  That’s what it means to be Pilot.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

#MyDogIsAnAsshole

“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” – Dumbledore

ddog

This is my Darwin.  I rescued him when I was 19 years old. He was my best friend for 12 years before he crossed the Rainbow Bridge about 10 years ago. He was also a complete asshole.

Darwin once found a dead raccoon in the back yard, and rolled on it. It was the worse smell I have ever endured in my entire life.The smell emanating from my dog was unbearable. Like a summo wrestler took a shit on a burning tire. It was kinda cathartic to finally admit it out loud: My dog is an asshole

It would have made a maggot gag.

I spent over 4 hours trying to get the smell off of him, and at that point, me as well, thus causing me to have to cancel a date with a guy I had been crushing on foh-evah. Like, since 4th grade.

Darwin seemed to have problems with skunks. Especially how he envisioned his relationship with them…

…versus the reality.

As Dumbledore pointed out to Harry in the quote in the beginning of this post, fearing to name something what it actually is can be detrimental.  I hear this a lot from my clients.

Client:  Hi, I’m interested in dog training. I have a 7 month old puppy.  He’s been biting us, jumping, stealing things from the counter and this morning chewed our sofa.

 

Me: Wow – he sounds like an asshole!

 

Client:  He is!  Thank you for saying that! I love him but he’s SUCH an asshole!

It’s okay to call a thing a thing.  It doesn’t make you a bad dog owner, and as a matter of fact, you may feel better when you finally accept that your dog is an asshole…you can move on now.  Start to address why he is that way, and what steps you can take to address the behaviors that are unsavory. Begin to Pilot his behavior, and answer his questions.

Because let’s face it.  Your dog isn’t bad.  He’s just an asshole.

He has a very good reason for everything he does.

- Chewed your slippersSeparation anxiety
Counter surfingNever properly taught boundaries.
Pees in the house? Overstimulated outside

So it may seem to you that your dog is an asshole, I think what we all mean is your dog is a great dog, he sucks at being human. Some dogs just get how to “human” easier than others.  Congratulations, your dog sucks at it.

 

Now let’s learn how to communicate your adorable little asshole.  Because let’s face it, he probably thinks you really suck at being a dog.

What’s the most “asshole” thing your dog has ever done?

Photo: charlesdeluvio

Photo: charlesdeluvio

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio