They don’t let 18-month-old Black Labrador Monty off lead now because they can’t trust him to come back when called – particularly if he sees another dog. He wants to play.
Poor Monty is now unable to have any freedom to run about, sniff, explore, chase and do doggy things.
You would think that coming when called was a simple, single issue. One of ‘dog training’ – learning to come when called.
Good recall can be a matter of life and death. If coming whenever called is worked on continually from puppyhood (using food), this never becomes an issue.
There is much more to recall than simply ‘training’. Most dogs understand what we want, but many decide to ignore us when there is something they would rather do.
This is more a relationship and motivation issue than lack of ‘training’ as such.
Monty really is a very good dog – particularly for an adolescent. The family has worked hard with him. However, I did notice that he was allowed to over-ride things he was asked to do. Did he want to go out at night? No? Okay. Did he want to come downstairs in the morning? No? Okay. It’s not a big leap to suppose that he would consider coming when called as optional also.
It’s sometimes hard to get Monty’s attention at home, so home is where it has to start. If the family members aren’t sufficiently relevant at home where there are few distractions, they are much less likely to be relevant surrounded by all the distractions of the outside world.
Monty’s humans are not using their main incentive – food!
We work best for money and for appreciation. So it is with dogs. Food is the best currency for most dogs.
When a dog has learnt to be selective whether he comes or not when called, it can be good to start all over again with a whistle. Home work needs to be put in first – lots of it. After a thousand toots of the whistle over a couple of weeks, each time followed by a tiny piece of something tasty (it can be a great family game whistling a dog from room to room), we should be well on the way to creating a conditioned response.
It still won’t be not strong enough to rely upon in the face of the major distraction – other dogs, so the work then needs to be taken onto walks, with Monty on a very long line.
The humans need also to look to themselves. Are they sufficiently relevant and exciting? Can they compete with another dog? Is a walk comfortable for Monty – in other words, are the people great to be with? If the dog is pulling on a collar or Halti, why would he want to come back to that discomfort and stress?
They must convince Monty that they are the very best, most exciting and rewarding option in the world!
So, what looks like a simple issue of not coming when called and a bit of ‘recall training’ out on walks, is actually quite a lot more.
Gaining control of food, requiring the dog to pay attention before he gets something he wants, not negotiating if we ask the dog to do something, teaching instant recall in the home, comfortable loose lead walking and so on, are all part of the picture.
Ultimately when they call him there will be nothing else in the environment that can compete with the importance of his family.
Then he will be conditioned to return when he hears the whistle.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can often do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).