I have just come home from seeing a wonderful dog – fantastic temperament and beautiful to look at – a cross between a Utonagan and a German Shepherd.
The problem is some reactivity towards other dogs which they want to nip in the bud – he’s fourteen months old – and unreliable recall when it’s really needed.
This started me thinking about the wider picture.
If a great number of the dogs I go to won’t come when called – at least, they will come but only if they feel like it, it must apply to a huge number of dogs.
Concern over how your dog will behave with another dog and the matter of spot-on recall go hand in hand. With unquestioning recall, you don’t have to worry that your dog could upset another dog. You effectively have him on a remote control.
A dog that won’t reliably come when called a danger to himself and others. He can also be an embarrassment to his owner. What’s more, the frightened other dog could itself now need a lot of work to build up his or her confidence again.
One incident involving an off-lead dog can change walks from a carefree pleasure to an ordeal.
An out-of-control, off-lead dog running up to your own dog can change future walks into an ordeal of constantly watching out for dogs and searching for dog-free locations.
It’s a vicious circle. The ‘victim’ dog may be infected and could now be potentially yet another dog that, if allowed to run freely off-lead, risks upsetting other dogs himself.
Because most reactive dogs are more confident when off-lead, owners take risks and let them free.
The owner of the stunning young Koda will be working very hard on his recall which she says is good. He understands ‘come’ and he will come back when called… except…..
….except when he rushes off to play or roughhouse with another dog,…… except when he’s chasing a deer. He will then run for miles. He could easily get killed.
But, apart from those occasions, Koda will ‘always’ come when called.
What does ‘come when called’ really mean?
I go to so many dogs that are reactive or scared of other dogs due to having been harrassed or attacked by another dog. I am therefore acutely aware that one dog’s freedom can potentially have a catastrophic effect upon the confidence and freedom of another dog. Upon the owner also. Walks can quite literally be ruined for them owing to a single incident of an out-of-control dog charging over to them and what then ensues.
Koda has never yet hurt a dog but he could easily scare one. He himself may well be scared of the other dog. The lady is worried because he rushes and barks at some. His hackles will go up. With other dogs he happily plays.
Koda makes his own decisions regarding which dogs he goes to and what he does when he gets there.
I see the priority one of controlling his freedom – Koda is still a teenager after all – until he can be trusted not to freelance. Changing his feelings about certain other dogs and hence his reactivity is a separate thing but equally important.
When Koda truly reliably comes back when called, his owners then can decide which dogs he goes to. He has many dog friends he plays with daily. He needs and relishes the exercise he gets off lead.
Reliable means reliable, not ‘reliable except when’….
Here is a nice little video from Steve Mann ‘A Recall is a Recall‘.
Every little thing counts, as they say.
There are things to put into place at home: If he’s is walked before his meal instead of after, food will have more power during the walk.
They can avoid getting him over-aroused, so he has more self-control when he goes out.
He barks when the dog next door barks and this can be turned into an opportunity – an opportunity to work on his recall from another dog. An opportunity also to feel better about barking dogs by associating its presence in the garden next door with good things, fun and food.
It is possible that Koda’s diet which contains very low quality protein and additives may not be helping. Poor quality protein can interfere with a dog’s ability to make use of the serotonin that occurs naturally in his system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.
Starting at home they can work on making coming to a whistle an automatic, conditioned response – something Koda will simply do without thinking. There is only one way to achieve this and it’s to repeat the exercise hundreds of times. He has the lady and her two sons dedicated to making him the best and happiest dog possible, so they will succeed I’m sure given time.
In the case of deer, his prey drive may be such that unless he is whistled before he starts running he simply may not hear them. We have to be realistic. In places where this can happen he may simply need to remain on a long line – fifteen metres of freedom only.
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 approach I have worked out for Koda. 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)