A really common problem I get asked about regularly is, “my dog runs off and won’t come back when called,” or “my dog only comes back when he feels like it.”
My question back to the owner would be, “have you spent time training your dog to come back when called?”
Most the time, the owner has not done any formal training on the recall but will tell me that the dog does know it and is choosing to ignore it. Often the dog comes when called in the house or backyard only and that’s the extent of how they know it.
But the most crucial times you’ll need your dog to listen to a recall is outside of the home around distractions and this needs to be trained.
A dog doesn’t generalize something they know well at home to all other situations and locations. A dog that comes when called at home is most likely doing it because the backyard is familiar and boring and they crave the owner’s attention so it’s easy for them to come running when they hear your voice. That’s why it can seem like the dog knows the recall without much training actually put into it.
But add distractions and new environments to explore? You’re no longer the most exciting thing to your dog and they have no training experience to help them realize that they can’t just run off to do what they want whenever something interesting and new is present.
When it comes to training the recall, there’s a couple of important rules. The first is to always make the recall rewarding and never punish your dog if you just called them and they came to you.
The other very important rule is to never allow a situation where the dog can learn that coming when called is optional. So when someone tells me their dog runs off and won’t come when called, or until he feels like it, I have to ask, why is the dog able to run off and make that choice?
If you haven’t practiced recall training to prepare for these situations, it’s really unfair to expect the dog to just know what to do.
Set your dog up to win – practice recall training in many environments on a long line, so that you can control the outcome.
Remember, practice makes permanent. Make sure that what is being practiced is what you want the end result to look like. Are you practicing a perfect recall because you are the one in charge, or are you allowing your dog to practice ignoring you? What you allow is what you’ll get.
If you need help with recall training, visit dogmatters.com and fill in the contact form to arrange a one on one training session.
Playing with our dogs is fun, or it should be, but it’s hard to keep the game going if the dog won’t give up their prize! Whether you’re playing fetch or tug, your dog should know to drop the item when told.
So if your dog brings the toy back or plays tug happily but won’t give it up? This one is for you.
There are two main techniques I use to teach a dog to drop a toy on cue. I have my favourite but you can try each and see which works best for you and your dog. As we know, every dog and human is different.
Technique #1 – The Trade
This is the option I would choose if the object in question is a ball. This is because a ball is a bit harder to hold if using technique #2.
When the dog brings the ball back close to you (this is a good option to use if the dog won’t bring it all the way back), present a trade. You can trade for a piece of food or an identical ball. Which one you use, again, depends on the dog. Some dogs like balls better than a treat so in that case, trade for another ball.
Hold the trade item up close enough for the dog to know what you’ve got. Never chase the dog if they are possessing an item they don’t want to give up. Stay still and stand your ground. The first few times you may need to give them the second item before they’ve dropped the first one. But as long as you have something they want, they HAVE to let go of the first item to take it.
After a couple of trades, start adding in your desired cue word right as the dog switches items. While they’re off fetching the second ball, or chewing the treat, pick up the first ball and repeat.
Keep trading until your dog is coming right up to you and dropping the ball on cue.
If it’s a tug toy, food may be easier to use. Hold the treat right on the dog’s nose and say your command to let go, reward with the food and repeat.
Technique #2 – The Hold, aka the death of the tug
This option is my preferred option for teaching a dog to let go on command during a game of tug.
By the way, tug is a healthy game to play, as long as your dog lets go when told.
Dogs like to tug on a toy that is moving – it has life to it.
This technique works when you remove all movement and life from said tug toy. The toy is dead and boring.
Take both ends of the tug toy and hold it firmly against your leg, planting your feet in a firm position with your knees bent and legs slightly apart. This will help you stay firm even if the dog is stronger than you.
Once you’ve planted the toy against your leg stay still and don’t allow the toy to move no matter how hard the dog tries. Say your command once and wait it out.
The idea is that the toy is no longer so exciting because it won’t move. The second the dog gives up on trying to get it and lets go, say, “YES!” and throw the toy again as the dog’s reward. Repeat. Each time, your dog will get quicker at letting go until you get to the point you can say the command without bracing the toy against your leg.
If your dog doesn’t return the tug willingly you need to practice with the dog on a lead or the tug on a line that you can reel in like a fishing line. Remember, what you allow is what you get so adding a leash or line removes the ability of the dog to practice parading around with their prize and playing keep away.
Solving unwanted behaviours in dogs is a complex job involving problem solving for each individual case, careful timing and consistency.
There’s science behind what I do but there’s also an art to it.
Yet in every case when you strip away all the layers, there is a simple concept to keep in mind that can help you problem solve any issue that might come up. I like to teach dog owner’s how to apply this because even when the problem they hire me for is solved, I want them to be equipped to deal with and understand anything else that might come up in the future.
Here’s the formula to remember:
Behaviour = consequence.
If the dog performs a behaviour and it results in a pleasant or desired consequence, the dog is more likely to repeat that behaviour again.
If the dog performs a behaviour and it results in an unpleasant or undesired consequence, the dog is less likely to perform that behaviour again.
Whenever your dog is behaving in a way you don’t like and would like to change, ask yourself: what is the dog getting out of this?
Dogs won’t just do things when there’s nothing in it for them. Just like us. It might not always be obvious, but if a dog is behaving a certain way, they feel they are getting something out of it.
Sometimes it’s just the dog’s perception rather than reality that they are getting something good out of a certain behaviour. For example, the postman comes by on a motorbike and delivers a letter into your mailbox and your dog madly barks at him the entire time. The postman then continues on to the next house as per usual. The postman was going to do this anyway, but in the dog’s mind the barking caused the intruder to leave. The dog feels good about this; she scared him off! The barking is reinforced and continues to be reinforced each day this happens.
Even though you and I know that the postman didn’t leave because the dog scared him off, what matters is the dog’s perception of the situation. Always keep this in mind when you’re trying to figure out why your dog is doing something.
Once you know what your dog is getting out of a certain behaviour, you can see if you can remove this reward from the situation. This is the first step to stopping the issue from continuing. Then replace the unwanted behaviour with something you prefer the dog to do and reward that instead.
Of course it’s not always that simple. Sometimes the unwanted behaviour is so rewarding to the dog and that reward is difficult to remove, or the dog’s been practicing the behaviour so long it is strongly ingrained. In these cases not only do you need to remove the ability for the dog to practice the behaviour and gain reward and reward an alternative, but you need to punish the unwanted behaviour as well.
A lot of people freak out over the idea of punishing a dog, but it doesn’t have to be harsh – it just has to be something that makes that behaviour no longer desirable or pleasant to the dog, and the other options more pleasant.
I can’t tell you how to punish a behaviour, or even how to reward one, because it depends on the individual dog and what they find to be valuable both to receive and to avoid. Every dog is different.
For example, a lot of people recommend using a water spray bottle to stop a dog from doing a myriad of typical naughty dog habits. This might work for some dogs and do nothing for others. Some dogs could even enjoy it and feel rewarded.
These are the nuances that make training both an art and a science.
The next time your dog does something you don’t like, have a think about what they’re getting out of it and how you can prevent that and teach them to do something you DO like instead.
If your dog’s behaviour is causing you stress, it’s probably stressing them out too. Visit dogmatters.com to arrange an in home visit to work on solving the problem one on one.
I recently had a question sent in from a subscriber who had been told by another trainer that she humanised her dogs too much and it was causing issues with jealousy and fighting. She asked, could this really be the case?
Apart from her specific situation, I thought the topic of humanising our dogs deserved a post of its own.
The, “furkids,” phenomenon. People aren’t content to just call a dog a dog and a cat a cat. It has to be more of a statement that the pet is a member of the family. And of course pets are and should be considered family members. But something about the furkids term makes me cringe – perhaps because I’m not a kid person, but dogs are not children.
Personally, my husband and I choose to have dogs instead of kids. Our dogs mean a lot to us and are definitely much loved members of the family. They’re even what you might consider spoiled – they’re treated very well. They sleep inside, we spend a lot on their food to make sure they have the best diet and health possible. They get nice toys and treats. We cuddle them on the couch. We spend lots of time with them. But we appreciate that they are dogs and that’s what makes them awesome. Even though we have dogs and not children, we don’t pretend that the dogs are children. To me they’re even better because I prefer dogs to kids.
But what’s the harm? Does it really matter if you call your dog a furkid? Not really. What matters is how you treat them. And I tend to see a correlation between people that call their dogs furry children, and people who administer inappropriate care-giving which leads to a lack of control and structure which disrupts balance in the relationship. This is where the the real problem lies. It’s not that the owner is parenting their dog like a child, but that their parenting techniques are inappropriate, and probably would be the same if they parented a human child in the same way, causing similar types of issues.
If you raise your kids with rules and structure, raise your dogs with those similarities and they’ll thrive.
Although dogs have different needs to human children, there are also key similarities to what they need from you as the pet-parent. Your dog needs species appropriate stimulation, and exercise, but similarly to kids they need education and rules . Respecting their instinctual needs keeps them balanced and happy. While you might think that spoiling a dog makes them happier, often the case is the opposite, with overly spoiled dogs developing anxiety issues because they are being treated like something they are not.
Affection is not a solution to behaviour problems and in fact can make matters worse. Significant problems occur when humans substitute love and affection for everything else the dog needs. This creates the imbalance. Usually stemming from laziness, humans force the dogs to live like them, spending all their time together on the couch watching Netflix after the dog has waited all day for them to return home from work, instead of providing any mental stimulation, training and exercise.
Some dogs are expected to deal with heavy human emotions, used as coping mechanisms for our problems – they didn’t sign up for that. And this happens because we love them, but we are using human ways of showing it. Sometimes love means putting the needs of others before ourselves, and dogs need love, and to be treated like dogs. Well treated dogs for sure, but still respected as canines with canine psychology.
What Does It Mean To Humanise A Dog?
I don’t intend to say that you can’t treat your dogs well, give them lots of love and affection and have them sleep inside. So what’s the difference between a well-treated dog and a dog that is being overly humanised?
Here’s some common ways that people humanise their dogs:
Assuming The Dog Experiences Human Emotions
This is the most common way that people humanise their dogs that also has the worst effects to the dog. Assuming a dog is guilty over their actions or that they hold a grudge and act out of spite are two common misconceptions that people believe about their dogs whereas the evidence shows that dogs don’t display these emotions the way that people do.
Using The Dog As An Emotional Punching Bag
Dogs can provide such amazing comfort to people – it’s one of the reasons we’ve bred them to live with us. But if a person is going through emotional problems and is up and down like a roller coaster or uses their dog to cope with serious issues, this can make the dog feel insecure and confused, as this time for a human can be unpredictable and lacking structure.
Treating The Dog As A Replacement Child
Whether someone can’t have children or chooses not to, having a dog instead is often very rewarding. But it’s a different species and treating a dog like a human child will make them anxious and confused. Dressing them up, carrying them in hand bags, putting perfume on them and basically not allowing them to behave like dogs is withholding from them some of life’s greatest pleasures as well as the behaviours that their instincts tell them they should be able to express. For example, dogs get confused when you speak to them too much, and most of them hate being handled the way you typically see when being dressed up.
The Difference Between A Well Treated Dog And An Over Spoiled Dog
Treating dogs well as dogs can sometimes be referred to as spoiling, especially by those who are more used to dogs being outside only and a bit more distant from the family. Inside vs outside is a personal choice, but dogs do want and need to feel included in the family.
However, taking good treatment too far can ruin a dog by causing them major behaviour issues. A dog treated well might be allowed inside, allowed to visit on the bed and furniture, fed a high quality diet, taken out and about often with the owner. This is all good stuff.
So where does it cross the line from a well loved dog to a dog that is being ruined?
Apart from the humanising habits listed earlier, the major cause of anxiety and behaviour issues results from too much freedom.
The dog can get on any piece of furniture or go to any part of the house any time she wants with no structure. She can eat whenever she wants and if she turns her nose up at it, she’s offered something better until she accepts. She might be sitting in a high chair at the table being fed a roast meal from a fork. Or maybe she is having a diet forced onto her because it’s what the owner prefers to eat rather than what a dog is designed to eat.
Many issues I see can be treated with the introduction of more structure and rules into everyday life. Just like with human children, rules, structure and routine helps keep life safe and stable and doesn’t mean any less love is involved.
How To Love Your Dog As A Dog
People are touchy these days and easily get offended over being told to do anything they feel might threaten the special bond they have with their pets. Fortunately, the best way to treat your dog does not involve loving them any less, but respects them more and helps them to be happier.
The human-dog bond began thousands of years ago and has always been special without trying to change the dog into something it’s not.
So here’s my tips on how to love your dog to the moon and back while treating them like the amazing creatures they are… dogs:
Run, Fetch, Swim, Walk
Dogs love to run. Get outside, get fresh air, see the pure joy on their faces as they run. Teach them to come when called and then run around with them too, exercise is good for both of you.
Different breeds may have different needs. What was your dog bred for? Can they experience this or something close to it?
A Healthy Dog’s Diet
Canines eat raw meat and bones. Are you feeding your dog as close to nature as possible?
Dogs Love Leaders
You don’t need to behave like a dog to be a reassuring and caring leader to your dog. But having a boss and knowing that they have a leader that will keep them safe makes dogs feel happy and secure. What does this look like? Make sure your dog listens to you at all times and knows the rules of the house.
Practice Obedience and Structure
The “Nothing In Life Is Free,” principle is where you give your dog a simple command before giving them a life reward, like access through a doorway, or eating their meal. It has nothing to do with who goes through the door first. It has to do with practicing obedience and looking to you as the leader of the house, which gives them that security.
Make Sure They Know Where To Be
Some spaces at home might be free run, like the backyard, other spaces may need more structure. This keeps dogs settled and out of mischief. For example, TV time may mean all the dogs are on their place beds, relaxed and sleeping while everyone else relaxes too. Want to cuddle on the couch? Just make sure you made the decision and invited them up, rather than giving the dog/s the choice ALL the time in where to go and what to do. Dogs feel more secure with a bit of structure.
Fairness And Competition In Multi Dog Households
Just like with children, competition over resources can cause conflicts in multi dog homes. Most often, the previous resource worth fighting over is YOU: access to you, attention from you, affection from you.
Many people try to make things more fair by making the dogs take turn at access to a privilege such as sleeping with the owner on the bed. The problem with this is dogs don’t have the same thought process with seeing that as fair. You might know that you are giving each dog the same allocated time on the bed. But each dog that is missing out at the time could be thinking in their mind that they are just waiting for their moment to fight to win the resource back every single time, causing a continual cycle of competition.
In a case like this, it would be much more fair the treat the dogs the same at the same time – for example, all dogs have to stay on their individual beds until released, and that’s just the way it is.
At the end of the day, all the kids, er, I mean dogs, have to do what they’re told, when they’re told and that makes loving them all the more rewarding for both of you.
Thank you to Daniel from Victorian Dog Training Academy for helping with input for this article.
When I was a kid we lived on 5 acres and to my delight it was somewhat a mini farm. We had horses, chickens, 3 small dogs, pet birds and reptiles. At various times we even did some wildlife caring and had a wallaby joey, a kangaroo joey and a possum named Glenn.
Our dogs were chihuahuas and terrier mixes. They would use their natural instincts hunting rats and mice in the shed where all the feed was kept for the horses. They were lightning fast and would catch and kill the rodents with speed, so they definitely had prey drive – but it was never an issue with any of our other animals – perhaps because they were all bigger than our tiny dogs.
We did have baby chickens around the dogs and had no issues, even though, to my dismay, one of our dogs had killed wild ducklings before. Yet when we had domesticated ducklings, again no problems. Why the difference? How did the dog refrain from using his prey drive and instincts when it came to the pets?
We never gave those dogs formal training – they really only knew the sit command and a rough recall. But when it came to pets that look like prey, my parents were always strict and clear to the dogs that they weren’t to be touched.
So can you trust your dog with chickens? The truth is, that’s a question that is impossible for me to give a straight answer to because every dog is different and has different levels of prey drive – the instinct to chase and kill. It also depends on the dog’s genetics, individual personality and history – has the dog killed a chicken or similar before? Or has the dog been raised around chooks all it’s life without incident?
With this in mind, let’s have a look at a couple of scenarios where people may ask about getting dogs and chickens to live in peace, starting with a dog that’s never met chickens before…
How to Introduce Your Dog To Chickens Safely
Let’s say you have had a dog for a few years and you would like to get chickens for the first time, but you have no idea how your dog will react.
Some dogs will adapt easily, as if they naturally understand that the chickens are off limits. Hopefully that is the case with you, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s not…
Many dogs will be very interested in chasing chickens. It’s important to keep in mind that this is natural instinct and your dog doesn’t know it’s wrong. Prey drive is triggered by movement so you’ll find that the faster the chickens move, the more your dog wants to chase and grab them.
The movement is setting off a strong instinctual desire and your dog has no idea that you aren’t in on this fun game. For all the dog knows, he’s helping you to catch dinner!
So take no risks. It’s just not worth it. When buying chickens, you should be prepared that getting your dog used to the fact that they aren’t to be eaten could take some time and effort on your part and there’s a chance you might never be able to fully trust your dog around the chooks.
Don’t force the two species to go close to each other. You don’t want to stress the chickens out by making them feel trapped while your dog eyes them hungrily.
Have your dog on a secure leash and start with a barrier between them. Reward your dog for calmness and for ignoring the chickens, especially if they move. Teach a leave it command beforehand and use it early – as soon as your dog eyeballs the chickens.
Then correct any intense staring, barking or lunging. I can’t tell you how to correct your dog – it needs to be something you know your dog won’t like enough to want to avoid it happening again. It shouldn’t be painful and may not even be physical, but should have a startling effect.
If you’re not seeing any changes, you may be too close too fast. The biggest roadblock I see to this type of training is impatience. Take it slow and accept this won’t happen overnight.
If you know you’re not too close and you’re still struggling with this, you may want to call in a trainer to help you.
When you’re not supervising your dog with a leash on around the chickens, the dog and chickens should be safely separated. For example, the chickens locked in their yard or the dog locked in a dog pen while the chickens have some more freedom.
If you leave your dog out with the chickens without enough practice, you’re setting your dog up to fail and will undo all your hard work. Your dog will get practice at chasing and even killing the chickens. This will make it so much harder to train your dog to leave the chickens alone.
If Your Dog Has Already Chased And Injured/Killed Chickens
The more practice a dog gets at any behaviour, the more ingrained that behaviour will get, ESPECIALLY if the behaviour is rewarding, and catching chickens is definitely rewarding.
If you haven’t caught your dog in the act, there is no point punishing your dog – they will have no idea why you’re doing it. There’s an old wive’s tail to tie the dead chicken to the dog’s neck and leave it there for days to punish the dog. I certainly don’t recommend doing this.
Speaking of wive’s tails, perhaps the worst of all is the belief that once your dog has killed a chicken and, “tasted blood,” it will be forever unsafe around animals and children. This false belief has sadly led to dogs being put to death for killing a chicken for fear the dog will turn on the kids. In truth, the natural instinct to chase and kill a chicken is present in most dogs and doesn’t translate to the dog being unsafe around children. It also has no effect on chicken chasing if you feed your dog chicken meat as part of their diet.
So what can you do? While killing a chicken won’t turn your dog into Cujo, it can make it harder to train the behaviour out, simply because when the dog chased and caught that chicken, it felt really good to him/her. The dog felt rewarded.
So the first thing you need to do is ensure that the dog is never put into a situation where it could possibly chase or catch a chicken again.
In the meantime, set aside time for training sessions where you work with your dog on lead, then with a long line. For some dogs and with the help of a trainer, you may progress to a remote collar.
I can’t say whether you will have success in training your dog to never want to chase or kill a chicken again. It may be a case of always supervising when the two species are around each other, taking safety precautions like keeping your dog on leash or a barrier between them.
Whether a dog has ever chased a chicken before or not, there’s never really any guarantee that it won’t happen if you leave your dog and chickens unattended together. You just can’t guarantee what any creature will do when left to their own devices.
Let me know in the comments – does your dog get along with an animal of prey like a chicken?