Your Dog Can't Do Anything Wrong (just consider it a training opportunity)
What kind of feelings come up when you hear that your dog cannot do anything wrong? Does your primate kick in and defend its position in your relationship? If our dogs aren’t listening it must be because THEY are wrong! Right?
From my years in responding to requests for behavior modification, most people misunderstand (and therefore label) a lack of compliance from their dog as being ‘stubborn’ or ‘willful’. We are assuming in that statement that the dogs brain is sophisticated to the degree that those labels are fair. For the sake of conversation here, I have seen dogs hesitate complying with a command, (which may be more common in certain breeds, you know who you are) though by and large many more times they are simply not understanding what we are attempting to communicate.
What is apparent to me as a teacher is that in order to recognize a training opportunity, it will be helpful to recognize when you are feeling they are being stubborn or willful. Let that be your information, not your frustration! Take a step back to ask if you have trained them to the level you are asking. Taking responsibility, as their humans, to help them learn what you are communicating IS the training opportunity.
In the simplest of terms, if our dogs don’t know what it is we are communicating, it falls on us.
Let’s look at the human experience of communication, for example. The way we communicate is if we do not get a response, or the one we’re expecting, we tend to repeat the same thing over and over, possibly louder and louder. Whether we know they are hearing us or not, it’s apparent they aren’t listening. Therefore, this is the way we tend to communicate with our dogs, and it is as ineffective, if not more so. They can hear a potato chip drop in the next room, significant to ‘hearing’ not being the problem. Since English is not their first language, I suggest slowing down a bit, training them to hear our first request, and not repeating as though we were in a burning building. Sit, SIT, SIT, SIT, SIT! This is a most INeffective way of communicating with a species that is adept at reading energy.
Here’s a training opportunity story:
Your dog, Pearl, slides out the front door and is on an all out, ears-flapping-in-the-wind run for a passer-by and their dog. You call out to her to come back, then again louder, all the while chasing after her full speed, in panic. Game-On! So, aside from feeling embarrassed, angry or frustrated, how are you going to react in this scenario?
According to Pearl, she’s not being stubborn to not come to you. Rather she is in an exciting, low threshold environment for her. So where is the training opportunity in this, and how is it she isn’t doing anything wrong? Simply put, you may have worked with Pearl’s recall in your home, or in the fenced yard, but have not taught her to come to you in a highly distractive environment. She has likely not generalized that coming to you in the house is the same as when she is excitedly running after something. The training opportunity is training her when she’s running away from you, and this requires hours of practice with her on long line running after things, and coming back to you when called. It requires that it works for her to whip around and run to you when called, and practicing the recall when she’s running toward different yummy things will accomplish this for you.
I will add that no amount of frustration or anger for not coming will teach your dog a thing, except possibly that if it wasn’t fun to come when called before, it certainly isn’t now.
Consider the association she has with how it feels to come to you. Have the times she has come to you ever been aversive? Have you called her out of the back yard (where she was having a blast) and then locked her in the house for 8 hours while you rushed off to work? Have you called her numerous times (missing the training opportunity) and so frustrated when she finally got to you that you exhibited anger? That would explain the next time you call her to you and she hesitates, or that she possibly does NOT come at all. Instead, in this scenario, make a game of running into the house with you, or having her wait while you leash her up and she walks nicely into the house with you. This will help you achieve your goal, with no breakdown to the recall command.
THESE are ideas of how you design the recall to ‘work for her’.
In order to fully train your dog to your communication, it is important for you to generalize the communication with her. There are ways to incrementally introduce levels of training to your dog that will help build confidence and levels of compliance, showing that taking advantage of a training opportunity is rich in rewards for you both. In this series, we will explore many more training opportunities and how to recognize when they’re presenting themselves.
In conclusion, if your dog ‘blows off’ a command, pack your frustration and anger away, and look for your training opportunity, because they aren’t doing it wrong, they just don’t yet know how to do it RIGHT!
Patti Howard BS, CCS is certified in Canine Behavior and Nutrition, and owner of Your Canine Resource in Olympia WA www.yourcanineresource.com