The easiest command to teach so why is it an issue.
Iain R Macdonald BAppSc (Psyc) MSc (animal Behaviour)
Teaching a young puppy to come when called is the easiest exercise we can teach a puppy…. So why then is it so hard to actually achieve it in reality……
|A new 8 week old puppy is programed genetically to know it needs to be with others to survive. When taken away from its littermates it needs its new owners and will not like to be away from them. Everyone who has ever had a puppy knows that if they get a bit far away from you they come flying in to enjoy the security the owners provide. So the heading of this article is correct it’s very easy to teach… so what goes wrong? Why is one of the most common reasons for coming to training the fact a dog won’t return when called?|
|The answer is actually more complex than the actual teaching, but the faults lie with us and our lifestyles and our perceptions. One of the first mistakes we all make with our young pups is catching them every time they come to us. You may need to be at work and the puppy needs to be put outside so as soon as the puppy comes to you, you catch it and take it outside and then leave it alone. Or we need to put the puppy outside to toilet so we call the puppy, again catch it and put it outside. We have begun to instill in this little mind that coming too close when called means it’s going to be caught and made to do something. We as humans haven’t finished here many will see a puddle on the floor call the puppy to them and chastise the pup for messing inside. Or another common one we are so protective of our pups that if they are loose and we can perceive that they may be hurt we call and again catch the puppy preventing it from having its freedom or even interrupting something which may be fun.|
|To be honest having recently started a young Irish Setter male, I had to look at why this little guy was suddenly not coming into me at 10 weeks of age like he did when he was 8 weeks…. Answer even experienced trainers can make mistakes due to lifestyle. I live on a rural property; the pup is off lead all the time but I have to leave at 6am to be at work on time. Now I’m very human… on a cold winter’s morning I have to run 7 dogs in the paddocks before locking them in kennels for the day… The adults know the routine but the puppy doesn’t. Add in the shower and the deadline I have to be out of here by and guess what…. I was grabbing the pup most of the time I called it to me without even realizing it… Slowly but surely the pup began to not want to come back to me, he began to stay well out of arms reach and I’d have to commit the cardinal sin of running up to him to get him. It was at this time I realized what I’d done and rectified the problem. But if a trainer of 35 years’ experience can make such a simple mistake it suddenly becomes not too surprising that recalls can and will be a major issue for many people.|
|We also need to add into the factors the puppy when it first comes to us is in its first fear period so it is perfectly natural that it feels the need to be with us, but at 10 weeks the puppy heads into its social dominance period and then starts to push the boundaries and try to finds its place in the social structure of our family. This continues for at least the next 6 weeks. All the while the pup is identifying our weaknesses to be exploited so that it can be as high up in the pack as possible. Please know this is nature at work the higher a pup is in the social structure of the pack the more likely it is to survive and pass on its genetics… it’s not personal its nature at work.|
|This creates issues for us as humans. We are still protective of the puppy it’s not fully vaccinated and we are wary of that… but the puppy isn’t… to it things need to be explored and it needs to know where it sits in the pack. This can become a major issue with those who have children. With the best intentions children just like the puppy will bend the rules and seek to find their place, big problem is the puppy develops so much faster than our children and can easily gain the upper hand… the child goes from playing with the dog to being a play thing for the dog, loosing social status and becoming a subordinate.|
|As an aside this is where cute type photos of the child cuddling the dog can lead to very dire consequences… To the humans cuddling is a sign of affection… but to the canid cuddling is mounting and thus whilst at this age, i.e. a puppy, it’s not sexual, it is still a high level expression of dominance… so a pack member, who the pup has been able to control to a high degree, suddenly assumes a very dominant position… would we as humans not react….. We would…. That sort of overt behavior to us, taking the canid perception of the primate expression of affection, would result in a reaction not dissimilar to the reaction of a dog attacking a child. Please understand the dog or in this case a puppy is only trying to find its place… not dis similar to what Psychologists say when they are suggesting that a child is just expressing themselves but it can lead to injury or death. A child cuddling any dog is a dangerous practice no matter how trusted the dog is.|
|So how do we as humans fix it? Simply we consider the canid perspective. So if we make sure that the recall results in a greater percentage of petting as opposed to catching the very young pup is more likely to view coming to us as a good thing…. But as the pup enters the social dominance period whereby it will begin to push the established boundaries, how do we rise to the challenge?
Initially the pup wants to come to us. Pat them, don’t grab them. Begin to instill in the pup that being with us is non-threatening and exactly what we and they want. Being consistent is the key. Make sure when u call your pup it’s for tactile content far more than it is about being caught. Coming in close to us needs to be something special….always.. On the odd occasion where life dictates that we must grab or catch the puppy it really has to be a minority of the times if not the problems will appear.
Next we must, as the pup enters the social dominance period, understand that by its nature the pup is pushing the boundaries…. So it’s imperative that we set the boundaries and make sure that coming back to us is not negotiable…its required and expected. In a young pup a negative marker such as .. no.. oi.. ahh… hey.. or whatever you would naturally say is usually all that is required… In extreme circumstances you may need to express leadership and rush at a pup which refuses to recall. BUT you need to be able to read signs of submission and not correct the pup… at this stage it actually hasn’t learnt the command so correction is not warranted or desired. What is warranted and desired is that the puppy knows that we expect to be listened too. It’s very wrong on all levels to correct or punish a pup which doesn’t know what we want or expect. By rushing the pup we are effectively using intimidation in a very similar way to the way another dog would. BUT and it’s a very big but we should once the pup has shown its submission… turn off the intimidation and warmly call the pup. Its black and white… ignore me and run off, I’ll be angry and scary, but come to me and you are patted and praised. This method works on dogs of all ages but care should be taken to ensure that the dog cannot escape so it must only be completed in a fenced in area. It needs to be noted the attitude of the handler needs to be unfriendly if not the pup may well think it’s a game. A final word on using this method…. It’s used very rarely and if done properly probably only used once… after that the pup should realize that is far better just to come to you when it’s called and all stay friendly.
Finally consistency has to again be considered. Every time you call the dog it must come to you and be close enough so it can be patted. If occasionally you’ll call the dog but to have it come right into you, you are sowing the seeds of a poor recall.
Consistency is again the key if you let the pup get away with not complying every time then you as a handler have made a rod for your own back… the recall is not negotiable. If you need your dog to return to u at times of crisis you will never achieve it if you are not consistent about having the pup come to you when u ask it..First time every time.