"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
Some of you might recognize the place, where I took this picture...yep, it is on Norm's Island. A nice little island with multiple paths, filled with trees and right by the river. And here, you are allowed to run your dog off leash. Something I have been doing every morning these last 4 weeks, since I moved into a 1 bdr apartment with no yard. And the dogs and I just love it. We go early, so we don't have to encounter a lot of people and dogs, and usually I walk about 1.6 - 2 miles whereas I am sure the dogs run closer to 4-5 miles, running free back and forth on the paths. I get sunshine and trees and exercises, and they get to run and sniff and just be dogs - something they are pretty good at.
However, as you might notice, Cedar is on a long line in this picture. And that is because something changed.
Cedair is a black labrador out of a hunting line, which means, nothing has higher value to him, than following a scent through the bushes and woods. The seeking and the anticipation of finding the animal (scent), activates his SEEKING system, which releases the central neurotransmitter, dopamine through his body ( the "feel good" hormone) and truth is, it is like crack cocaine to him. When he first get a scent of something, he is gone. For the first month, he did good on his recall. BUT the last two days, he would disappear and not respond to my recall for at least 10 minutes. I am sure he was having the time of his life and yes, he did always come back. And when he did, I NEVER yelled at him. No, that would only keep him away.Plus how could I punish a dog for doing something he was BREED to do. Instead, I rewarded him the best way I could in that moment, trying hard to add value to him coming back. However, he was practicing and repeating a behavior, that I definitely did not want to continue. And not only was I losing his response to his recall - as an added "bonus"(sarcasm may occur), Murphy got to practice it too. Not that Murphy is truly that interested in following a scent. No, but he is a herding mix and breed to respond to movement in the environment. So chasing Cedar through the bushes was (and is ) the best game in the world and highly self -reinforcing. And if Cedar didn't respond to his recall, why should Murphy? And again, how can I blame him for doing what he is breed to do....move and herd and chase
Instead I had to realize that I had a gap in my recall training with Cedar ( he didn't perceive me as being of more value or interest, than the high he gets from his dopamine induced search) and I needed to change the set-up in order for both dogs to be successful on our walks.
So this morning, Cedar was on a long line. He didn't necessarily think it was that great. However, it simply was a safety issue when I no longer could trust him being off leash, due to lack of reliable recall. Being on the long line still gave him plenty of opportunities to sniff while also giving me a chance to train recall with lots of success. And being on a long line versus a 6' leash, he still felt he has options when meeting new dogs ( I highly recommend, that do don't take your dog on a 6' leash to an off leash area- it can often create problems due to your dog feeling restrained thus now not having the option to move away from other dogs).
As an added bonus, Murphy would stay close and thereby also practice good and wanted behaviors ( as I mentioned earlier, his main motivation was to chase Cedar, not following a scent).
So a successful walk, even though we only walked 1.6 miles today.
My story is to remind you of a few things:
- When a dog practices a behavior, it will become stronger. No matter whether we like it or not. He does it because it has value to him.
- If you don't like the behavior, you will need to change it and teach the dog the skills needed. First step is to manage the environment, or your set-up so your dog no longer have access to practice this unwanted behavior (in this case a long line). Next step is to teach the dog the skill you would like to see him use instead ( in this case, practice his recall by trying to create more value and interest to me).
- There are certain traits within each breed, that you will need to be aware of, because it matters.
- And finally, when people say;"oh as a trainer, your dogs must be perfect?", I can truly answer, "yes, perfect at being a dog." Which means: barking, digging, chasing, seeking, searching, running, and so much more. And if that doesn't work for me, I better start working on some new stronger skills.
And for now, Cedar is simply going to have to stay on the long line until I can proof his recall enough, that he can safely be off leash again.
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.