Reliable Recall: Some Rules to Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

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Coming when called is perhaps the most important thing your dog can learn.  It can mean the difference between being lost forever, getting into a road and hit, or just generally making you pull your hair out with worry.

There are a few rules you need to keep in mind when you teach your dog to come when called.

  1. He needs a reason. He may not need one later, but he needs one now.  So don’t expect him to come and then not reward him with something positive.
  2. Treat it as if it were as important as it actually is!  When your dog comes to you, throw a party!  Don’t just say “Good boy” in a dull voice.  Be enthusiastic, and give him some noms.
  3. Don’t ever punish him for coming to you, no matter how long it takes!  If you greet him with anger or frustration he will be reluctant to come to you the next time you call.  And don’t do something he doesn’t like.  Don’t call him and put him in the bathtub.  Don’t call him away from play (not now, anyway).  If he needs a bath, then call him, play with him for five minutes, and then it’s bath time.
  4. Practice every day.  Don’t just hope it will be there when you need it.  Practice it at whatever difficulty he is successful at, and then build up.

This is an important command.  Take time to train your dog, and have fun with it!

A New Puppy For Christmas

Christmas pups 055aWhat could be better than opening a wiggly box of puppy happiness on Christmas morning?  Not much if you were in the market for a puppy, and the one in the box is exactly what works best in your household.  But buying an animal as a gift is a tricky thing, and should be done with extreme caution and careful consideration.

You see, when you get an ugly sweater, or one that is the wrong size, taking it back does not result in anybody dying.  I have been to kill shelters and seen puppies put down by the dozens.  Don’t think that just because your return is comely and wags his tail that he will find a home.  Most do not.

The kill rate (percentage of dogs and cats that end up in shelters who die there) hovers around 70% in North Carolina, with some counties as high as 91%.  Prior to the construction of the new shelter, Rockingham County’s rate was as high as 97% (I was unable to find statistics for the new shelter, but I guarantee despite the nice facility the kill rate is still very high).  These are not good odds.  If you hear there is a 70% chance of rain, you wear a raincoat or take an umbrella and are ready to be wet.

But our society still badly wants to believe that most of the animals in shelters are saved.  They are not.  Most of them die alone and unwanted.  Do not take the chance that you might contribute to this number by purchasing a puppy on a whim.  Think it out, and be absolutely certain it is the right thing to do.  This applies at Christmas time, and during the rest of the year.  Puppies and dogs (and cats) have emotions.  They love, they feel, they get scared.  They do not deserve to end up dying alone at shelters because of our thoughtlessness.

Can adoption be successful during the holidays?  Yes.  When it is well thought out.  When the recipient really wants the dog, and was even actively looking at just this sort of dog prior to the holiday and was ready to take the leap.  When the recipient is ready to take on the financial responsibility and put in the time and love that it takes to raise and train an animal to co-exist well in their home these adoptions can be successful.  But some of these animals can live more than a decade.  It is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Beating a Dead Zebra – Final Note

angry chiThe apparent success of punishment can be convincing.  Punishing will often result in an end to a behavior.  It may also result in the temporary suppression of a behavior.  At least, as long as the one doling out the punishment is present.  Dog pees on the floor, and his owner rubs his nose in it.  Next time the dog needs to pee he slips behind the couch.

Dog growls or shows aggression.  Punishment happens.  Dog no longer shows signs of aggression.  But is the underlying emotional cause gone?  Absolutely not!  Punishment of these warning signs often leads to dogs that bite “without warning”.  We humans, in our infinite wisdom, are notorious for punishing out the warnings our dogs give prior to biting.  It doesn’t change the anxiety that leads to the aggression, it just changes the dog’s decision to warn us about our transgressions.

Aggression begets aggression.  That is a fact, and it often occurs on both sides of the equation.  We punish something we don’t like, get a result, and next time it happens we punish again, often with harsher punishment than before.  We feel a sense of satisfaction from the suppression of the unwanted behavior.  Because of this we are rewarded for punishing.  Basic behaviorism tells us that any behavior that is reinforced will grow stronger.  It is a hard pill to swallow, but it happens all the time when we use punishment.

Aggression also can lead to more aggression from our dogs.  Because we are now perceived as a threat to them because of our perceived erratic and violent behavior, they must defend themselves.  If we set up an adversarial relationship with them we should not be surprised when that is what we end up with.

Crossing Over

I thought it wise to take a break from my current series to explain something about my training methods for those of you who have known me for a long time.  I am what they call a “crossover trainer”.  What that means is that I once used methods and tools I no longer use.

You see, there are really two schools of dog training.  One I refer to as traditional. These are dog trainers that learned from dog trainers that learned from dog trainers and they have been pretty much using variations of the same methods for nearly a century.  They support these methods because they often see instant results with them.  They are sincere in their thinking that these methods are the best and most proven methods.  But the issue is, by the time the problems that these methods cause rear their ugly heads, the trainer is often out of the picture, or, if he knows nothing about the science at all, the trainer does not associate the problem behaviors with his (or her) training methodology.  These are not bad people, they do care about the dogs.  But their methods are problematic.  I used to be one of those trainers.  Until I met the other kind of trainer.

The second variety of trainer is one who studies the science of behavior and designs methods around the science rather just doing it a certain way because that is how it has always been done.  We have come a long way from the traditional methods, to the benefit of our four legged companions.  This is the reason you will see me writing articles that may discourage the use of techniques and equipment that I once embraced.  You see, I have discovered, that just because it works sometimes, and just because that is the way it has been done since the beginning, doesn’t make it right.  We used to put leaches on sick people to make them better.  Science prevailed there, so please, let it prevail here.

And if ever you have any questions about anything I write, or (gasp!) don’t believe me, please let me know and I am happy to send you the names of people with PhDs and DVMs who have done the research.

Another note about traditional methods and your DVM.  Most vets do not specialize in behavior, but some do.  Those that do not specialize in behavior may have no more knowledge than the traditional trainer does about what methods are and are not helpful.  So when I refer to DVMs in regard to behavioral expertise, it is those that have studied behavior, not those who haven’t.

So I hope that clears some things up for you.  And if you are one of those people who I worked with before and would like to hear about the new stuff please let me know!  If you are still in the area I will give you a session or two to see if we can’t cross you and your dog over, too!

Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 5

cane_corso_italiano_6Learned helplessness occurs when an animal/human finds their situation so out of their control, they eventually stop trying to change or escape it.  This is the reason that humans stay in abusive relationships, and it happens when punishment is used with our four legged friends.  Because our timing is not perfect, our dog doesn’t understand why the punishment happened.  Because (from the dog’s perspective) the punishment happens at random regardless of his behavior, the dog feels powerless to change it and will simply stop moving.

You may have seen this watching some of the popular TV shows featuring dog “professionals”.  Some describe it as calm or submissive.  What it is:  helplessness.  The dog has given up.  You can do whatever you want to him and he will not react because he has decided there is simply no point.  No hope for him.

Learned helplessness has no place in our training regimen, nor does it have a place in our relationship with our dogs.  There is nothing healthy about it.  I have seen a dog stand in one place as if frozen while given commands that he supposedly ignores while he is repeatedly shocked with a “remote” or “electric stimulation” collar.  Chances are the dog simply doesn’t know the cue well enough to perform in his current surroundings.  A dog in this situation is learning nothing except to accept his fate as inevitable.  It will never result in his obedience, just his misery.