It’s frustrating to see a dog get punished or scolded by a well-meaning owner for an act or behaviour they have not been trained for. A popular issue with dogs and owners is recall. Dogs get punished all the time, verbally and physically, for not coming when called, yet when asked how much time is spent teaching a dog to come, the look I get is one of confusion. Maybe it never occurred to an owner that their dog’s successful recall needs to be taught, practiced, coached and reinforced.
Go to any dog park and you will likely see the following events unfold regularly…
A human arrives at the park with their dog. Human lets dog go to romp and play, this is a good thing. After a period of time the dog gets called by the owner to leave the park. The ritual of getting the dog to come to their human begins with the human trying to get the dog to come to them on command – as if it was a command they taught, coached and practiced with their dog. The process, or sequence of events, starts with the human calling the dog’s name to no avail. The next step by the human is to repeat the command several times. Next is to call the dog’s name while increasing human voice volume. This approach offers little chance of success in getting the dog to come. After this fails the human’s frustration level is increasing. Now alternate strategies are employed. A popular and futile strategy is to shame the dog by saying something like: stupid dog or some name calling. (This effort to shame the dog is completely lost on the dog, by the way.) Shaming is a human thing that does not enter the dog world. As well, the dog has no idea what you are saying. Other common desperation tactics include telling the dog: “OK, fine…I’m leaving without you” or a loud and clear voice, the human yells: “TREAT!!!” The last step in this frustrating process, frustrating for dog and human, is the neck grab. This often happens when the dog appears to finally decide to leave the park and allow their human to get close to them to leash up and leave. Unfortunately for the dog, at this time their human’s frustration levels are high. The human walks towards their dog, speeding up as the gap between dog and owner closes. Dogs do not like straight on approaches or direct eye contact, both are a sign of aggression for them. When the human finally gets close enough to get a leash on the dog, or thinks they are close enough, the dog scamper five to twenty feet away in an effort avoid their human, getting leashed and leave. This dog avoidance of their human often escalates the human’s frustration, and embarrassment levels. Humans that think they can catch a dog that does not want to be caught are amusing. When the dog relents and lets their human put the leash on and exit the park it is unfortunately common to see the human in a huff possibly yanking on the leash “punishing” the dog and grumbling and mumbling all the way to the car in an effort to send the dog a message. This perceived punishment and admonishing is completely lost on the dog.
I have asked owners who participate in this ritual: how often do you practice recall with your dog? The response is usually a blank stare. Scrabble face. Some might be thinking: you’re correct; recall is something I need to practice. Others might be thinking: what are you talking about?
To get your dog to come to you nine times out of ten, or better, practice is required. Practice and positive reinforcement must happen with a high degree of regularity. Mastering any command takes time, practice and consistency from humans. It must be the same command everytime with the same voice tone, the same volume, the same intonation. If time is not invested in your dog to help master basic commands, there are no grounds to complain when your dog fails to obey a command they have not been taught. Imagine, from a human perspective, being asked by a friend, spouse or boss to do something you have never done before and fail at it and you get punished as a result. Such a reaction is unfair. How would that feel? Giving a command to a dog that does not have that command mastered and getting upset at the dog is not fair to the dog and creates plenty of reason your to not want to be around you. As responsible dog owners, we want the opposite of that. We want out dogs to think the best place in the world is with their human. Master the commands. Practice the commands often. Be patient. Make it fun. Over time, your dog will become the dog you want her to be and it will be well worth it!