The adolescent phase of a dog’s life can be a very frustrating time for many owners. Beautiful, well-behaved puppies suddenly turn into a teenagers and find all manner of random things much more interesting than paying attention to their owners. This is the case with a gorgeous Labrador who’s recall while out on walks isn’t what it should be. So what are we doing? Over the next few weeks and maybe months, we’ll be teaching an alternative behaviour to running away. We’ll teach her that coming back to her owner is just as exciting and rewarding as running off to play with other dogs, follow other people or go and sniff the cattle along the Bollin!
First, we need to go back to basics in the home environment. We have a happy, well-behaved dog at home but by revisiting the basic training, in a less distracting environment, we improve the basic commands we need when outside, increase focus on the owner and, most importantly, we are setting her up for success. Learning by positive reinforcement is all about rewarding those behaviours that we want. Getting tasks wrong will not improve a dog’s understanding of what an owner wants. So, we’ll start with some simple commands and recall exercises in an environment where we know she will get them right, then gradually increase the difficulty as she progresses.
We also need to break the habit of running away that has formed over the past few months. She doesn’t know she doing wrong, she’s just a teenager having fun and we can’t ‘tell her off’ for it. By the time she comes back to the owner any negative reaction will be associated with coming back and not with the act of running away. Long lines are great for this. They allow the dog the freedom to be a dog but with 20 – 30 foot of lead attached, they give that extra bit of security. We’ll take her out on her normal walks, go through the recall exercises and play some games. Then if she decides it’s time to take off we can reel her in then reward her and make a big fuss for coming back. Over time, she will realise that it is better to come back than to run away.
Sound simple? Let’s be under no illusion that this will happen over-night. Consistency, patience and a certain amount of tenacity will be required but over time we should see improvements in behaviour. I’ll be writing about our progress and, undoubtedly, our setbacks over the next few weeks so watch this space!