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

Superstitious: Debunking Training Myths

When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way – Stevie Wonder

Darwin Dogs Alumni Duchess!

Darwin Dogs Alumni Duchess!

Phone calls with new clients can sometimes be a little challenging. A lot of times, they’ve already tried to fix whatever behavior problems they’re having themselves.  And they use Google as their main tool.  Now I’m as big a fan as the next person of Google and solving my own problems, but as a lot of my clients are quick to point out, everything one dog trainer states contradicts another dog trainer.

I personally try to think of it more as parenting rather than training.  You aren’t here to “train” your dog so much as to answer their questions and guide them onto the right path of behavior.  Once they are there, it’s pretty easy to keep them there with lots of positives, and the occasional gentle negation of unwanted behaviors.

But sometimes I hear some really off-the-wall ideas.  Downright fallacies not based on science, but rather based on…superstition..  Thoughts and ideas that crumple once faced with logic.  “Flat Earth” level nonsense.

 

So here we go.  The top 4 “facts” I hear about dogs and behavior.

1)  Don’t wrestle with your dog; it teaches them they can win.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

This is my Sparta.  She’s a 120lb Rottie/Shep mix that I rescued over 10 years ago. When we wrestle together there is no doubt in our minds who will win.  She will.  Every.  Single. Time.  When we wrestle, she Nerfs it for me, and we both know it.  Wrestling with your dog is like 50 Shades of Gray: Safe words are a must.  You stop as soon as the first person says the word. That way there are no misunderstandings.  Good, safe fun for everyone.

But not playing because Sparta knows she can win?  That’s a power trip.  That’s like me never playing Super Smash Bros. with my 11yr old daughter because she might win. River/Bip kicks my ass all the time.  Except this one time.

MommaGeddon still knows how to throw down on Smash, though!

MommaGeddon still can do a throwdown on Smash!

So go ahead and wrestle with your dog. Just make sure that everyone is respecting when it’s time to stop, and when things have escalated too far.  If your dog hasn’t learned impulse control yet, or doesn’t stop when you call it quits, that’s a Piloting issue.  Get it sorted out first, and then enjoy your own little WWF.

2) Puppies only need 5 minutes of exercise a day per month of age.

puppy exercise

WTF is this?  Good luck with your Boxer who is only getting a 25 minute walk every day.

First, let’s start with the fact that at six months, little Fido is no longer a puppy; they are a viable young adult, (roughly) akin to about a 15 year old human. At 15, a 25 minute hike was a warm-up for me.  Secondly, is there a one-size-fits-all amount of exercise that a human needs?  Dogs are so much more varied in size and athletic ability than humans, you can’t really make such a generalized statement about their exercise needs.  Rather than relying on various memes posted, learn to read your dog’s own specific needs.  Is Fido climbing the walls? Maybe time for some activity (learn how to exercise your dog beyond the walk here).  Is Bella suddenly stopping and dropping on the walk? It could be that she’s overstimulated, especially if she’s still rambunctious in the house.  Again, that would be a Piloting issue that needs to be resolved.  But if Bella is calm on a walk, or seems to be able to calm herself down in the house, then you are probably giving her enough activity.

Final thought on activity for dogs.  More frequent and less duration is key with younger dogs.  Break it up into smaller “meals” of activity rather than just one big lump of a five-mile run.  Learn to read when your dog is “hungry” for activity rather than what some random meme tells you.

3) Don’t play rope toy/tug with your dog. It teaches them to be aggressive.

 

Newsflash: your dog is a predator. They were born aggressive. And guess what?  It’s okay.  Rope toy looks awful sometimes when your dog is really into it, but the Fifty Shades of Gray analogy still works:  as long as you’re both still having fun, it’s all cool. When you say “stop”, the game should be able to end.  If Fido is still going, it’s indicative of a Piloting problem, not an aggression problem.

Also, everything a dog does is geared towards being a more effective hunter, and working with the pack to effect a kill.  Paying rope/tug is just practicing how to hunt an animal together.

In the end, you do you on this one.  If you like practicing how to kill innocent rope toys with your dog, have at.  If not, there are plenty of other ways to bond with your dog.  But honestly, it’s the only upper body workout I ever get, so Sparta and I will still continue to play tug.  And she will still Nerf it for me so I can sometimes win, too. #GoodDog.

4) You shouldn’t let your dog on your bed/couch/chairs.

Client:  Is it okay if I sleep with my dog?
Me: I don’t care who you sleep with; that’s none of my business.

Don’t fall for anyone else’s rules.  Rules are stupid, and nobody pays attention to them anyway.  Just like Monopoly…I guarantee you aren’t playing by the rules ;)

 

Rules are different than when you give a dog a negative.

1) When you don’t like their current behavior; and

2) When they’re “Yo, Bitch-ing” you.  Learn what the “Yo, Bitch” is here.

That’s it.  If you don’t care about their behavior, and it isn’t a “Yo, Bitch”, it’s okay.  If you’re fine with the behavior, so am I.

 

There are a lot more fallacies and bits of misinformation out there, but these are the biggest bits of lunacy I hear on a regular basis.  And as Stevie says:

Keep me in a daydream, keep me goin’ strong
You don’t wanna save me, sad is my song 

I’m inclined to agree:  Superstition ain’t the way

What kinds of silly nonsense have you heard about dog training?

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio