Come. Won’t Come When Called. Runs Off. No Recall

Layla really is the near-perfect little dog for her lady owner, particularly at home. She stable, confident and can be taken anywhere.

When off lead, Layla won’t come when called.

The one and only area where she is less than perfect is that, once she’s free, she may run off and she won’t come back.

Layla has been chased along beaches and chased down busy roads. She is not let off lead at all nowWon't come when called.

The three-year-old Bichon Frise is an independent little thing. She’s not demanding. She may do her own thing but that’s no problem – not most of the time anyway.

To come when called isn’t really about training. Layla knows what ‘Come’ means, I’m sure. She just doesn’t see a sufficiently good reason to do so.

This is about two things: motivation and building up a conditioned response – so that when she hears the word ‘Come’ she reacts more or less automatically.

Motivation.

Where motivation is concerned, the lady needs to make herself as compelling and relevant (to Layla) as possible. Mutual love isn’t quite enough. When out, the lady is competing with the environment of wonderful smells, other dogs, birds and so on.

What can she do?

She can work on getting and holding Layla’s attention at home to begin with. To make herself motivating she can get Layla to work for some of her food – Layla loves her food fortunately.

The lady could also use fun if she could find something they mutually enjoyed. Although it may not be appropriate in this case, here is a nice video showing how play can be used to make the person really desirable to be with and to come back to.

Over the past two years at least, Layla has learnt that ‘Come’ is optional. She comes back when she wants. She has also learnt that the word come will probably be repeated many times “Layla, Layla, Come, Come, Come…”.

This selective hearing now has to be replaced with a new, automatic, response to the word ‘Come’.

There is no quick fix for a dog that ignores being called. The only way to achieve good recall, particularly if one is unable to run about oneself, is through lots of repetition where the dog is only set up to succeed.

When someone says ‘Catch’ we put your hands out without thinking. When the lady says ‘Layla – Come’, Layla needs to run to her almost without thinking.

Frequent short sessions, stopping while it’s still fun.

‘Come’ meaning ‘come’ will be best absorbed by Layla if done in graded steps, over a period of time. It will be a good while before ‘off lead’ is reached.

So, I have created a plan where they start in the house with frequent sessions of walking around. Copying what I did, the lady walks away from her calling “Layla – Come!”. Layla catches up and is rewarded. The lady can then call her from room to room. She can then call her when she’s out of sight. Eventually they can graduate to having Layla on a 30-foot long line, outside where there are more distractions, tied to something like a tree.

Bit by bit you they will be building up an automatic response.

The lady will be motivating Layla: ‘I’ve been called, I will come right away. It will be worth it!”.

She can also reinforce ‘Come’ by calling Layla for anything she likes, like meals, putting her lead on for a walk or going to the car.

When Layla is running on the beach on her long line, the lady should only call “Layla – Come” when she is coming anyway. The competition from the environment makes it too likely that ‘Come’ will be ignored and devalued.

How long will it take? Who knows. It will depend upon how patient the lady is and how many short sessions she can manage – sufficiently short that Layla remains motivated and doesn’t become bored.

Two or more years of freelancing won’t be overturned in just a few weeks.

 

Guard Dog. Protective German Shepherd

I am sometimes contacted by people wanting to make their dog be a guard dog. These people aren’t happy because their friendly or fearful dog is useless at protecting them or their property.

Training dogs to behave with aggression isn’t my bag at all.

Taking the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog.

guard dogI do however often go to dogs with guard dog in their genes and that are excelling at the job, but whose owners don’t want this behaviour. We’re trying to take the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog, if you like. These are often, but by no means always, a Shepherd breed.

I have just met a beautiful year-old German Shepherd called Dexter who morphs from an affectionate pet into a fearsome guard dog if a person comes near the house. Particularly if they enter.

The couple took him in at nine months old and despite diligent hard work this behaviour has escalated over the past three months.

A confident dog bred to guard.

I see Dexter as a confident dog doing what he’s been bred to do – to guard. Understandably, this guarding behaviour has become stronger both as he has settled into his new home and as he’s matured.

The work on socialising him with lots of different people and other dogs should have begun at a few weeks old and been ongoing. If this had been the case, the couple, his second owners, would probably not be having problems now.

Dexter was even more highly aroused than usual when I met him. In order to get him as calm as possible when I came, they had taken him out for some vigorous exercise earlier which probably had the reverse effect. My arrival and the first attempts to find the best way of working with him will have caused him extra frustration and stress, so much so that he redirected onto poor Max. Max is their very easy-going young Labrador.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible will help Dexter to exercise more restraint, be less reactive. Training alone hasn’t worked – they’ve worked with an excellent trainer. It’s the emotions driving the aggressive behaviour that need addressing.

If Dexter were scared of people, then because fear was driving the behavior we would be working on his becoming less scared of them.

Dexter isn’t scared. He seems supremely confident, at home anyway. He simply doesn’t want other people near him, particularly not in his house. He will try to do whatever it takes to send them away.

It took me a while to see clearly how best to approach this, then I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of our aim being for him to just tolerate people coming to his house, we need to get Dexter to positively welcome them.

What might Pavlov do?

Pavlov used a bell. Whenever he gave food to the dog, he also rang a bell. After a large number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused the dog to salivate.

So the dog had learned an association between the bell and the food and a new behavior had been learnt. His body reacted automatically. (To be all technical, because this response was learned – or conditioned, it’s called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus, the bell, became a conditioned stimulus).

Why can’t we use a bell too, a wireless doorbell with two buttons? On bell push can be on the front door, the other somewhere in the house. They both trigger the same plug-in bell. Instead of food, Dexter can have fun. He’s much more motivated by play anyway.

They can repeatedly over time pair the sound of the bell with a short game of tug or throw him a ball. They can introduce new toys for extra impact and rotate them.

Happy hormones.

When play is triggered by the bell, Dexter’s brain should flood with ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.

I quote from the article Canine Emotion by Victoria Stilwell: ‘Serotonin, for example, has a profound affect over emotions and is responsible for regulating mood, enhancing a positive feeling and inhibiting aggressive response. Dopamine helps to focus attention, promoting feelings of satisfaction….’

After a great may repetitions over time, Dexter should feel happy and think of play at the sound of the bell, even when no play follows (although it would be a good idea to keep topping it up). His brain will automatically fill with happy hormones at the sound of the bell.

Eventually, when there is a delivery person at the door, instead of thinking ‘Invader’, guard dog Dexter should think ‘Fun’!

When a friend visits, instead of thinking ‘terrorist’, our guard dog should be thinking ‘Tug Toy’!

To give this the best chance of success, Dexter’s underlying arousal levels need to be as low as possible. Long walks and vigorous exercise such as he’s getting now may surprisingly have the opposite effect to what is required, as beautifully explained by Stacy Greer.

The main areas that need working on are Dexter’s hostility towards people and other dogs when out, and people coming to their house.

Avoiding altogether both people coming to the house and seeing people and dogs on walks as they are doing now will get them nowhere. However, putting the dog over threshold (too close, too soon or too intense) will probably make things even worse.

It’s a delicate balance.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dexter. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).