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Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

One of the best things you can teach your dog is to come when called. Teaching perfect recall isn’t that difficult, but when we do it incorrectly, it seems like the most impossible thing on earth.  The golden rule, in my opinion: your dog needs to associate coming to you with only the best possible things. You’re the happy and safe place when he’s uncertain of something or when he just needs to check in with you. The Don’ts:

  • One of the biggest mistakes I see in the park, especially with new puppy owners, is the repetition of the dog’s name and the command. By the 20th “Rover, come!” the dog believes this means nothing.
  • Trying to instil recall in a dog from 100 feet away is too far.
  • Not rewarding the voluntary “check in” is also a big no no.
  • Not rewarding the dog when/if he does respond to the come command is an opportunity lost.
  • Calling a dog away from play will just go further to soil the command, because chances are, he’s too caught up in the excitement to come running back.
  • Don’t become frustrated, and don’t rough-handle or yell at your dog when he returns after being elusive.

Now for the Dos of teaching recall:

  • Start from a very tiny distance, in an area with no distractions. Inside the house, to the yard, and eventually graduate to the park.
  • Reward the desired behaviour every single time with food and praise.
  • Dogs will often check in with you during play or romping. That behaviour deserves a big “yes” or “click” and a treat.
  • Dogs will sometimes elude owners because they’ve learned that every time they go to them the leash clips and it’s time to go home. Practice on every walk, right from the onset. Your dog will like the odds.
  • Use high value treats for teaching recall. Treats that you don’t provide at any other time.

I am over simplifying, and there are many more helpful articles out there, such as this one by Pat Miller. Learn the exact science behind it, and when it’s ok to start slowly phasing out treat-based rewards. At OMD we work on recall from day one, with every single dog. It keeps them safe and us sane.

Toronto Dog Walker RoncesvallesThis is Charlie, a rescue from The Toronto Humane Society. When I started walking her, I immediately realized she is mostly Golden Retriever and I couldn’t’ understand why it was like calling a brick wall. And I was terrified she was going to run away. So, I met her with her mum in High Park one Sunday. It was obvious she wasn’t the runaway type so I broke out my best treats, and we went to work. Because she’s so clearly a retriever and she aims to please, this sweet-natured gal was recalling perfectly within a week. No, it’s not always that easy, but working on this with your dog (or the dogs you walk) could save their lives one day.

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Canine Body Language - it's a real thing

When you spend a lot of time with many different dogs, reading body language becomes instinctive. Before a dog trainer friend officially educated me on the topic seven years ago, I thought I was some sort of psychic: “I just knew that fight was going to happen.” But of course dogs communicate with each other and us though body language. How else are they going to do it? Remember that video of Cesar Millan taunting Holly, the food aggressive Labrador? After she bites him he says, “I didn’t see that coming.” That line reverberated around the dog world. How could a man who is surrounded by dogs all of the time, not have seen that coming? The rest of us certainly did.

Knowing how to read your dog is fairly simple and by doing so, you can save them a lot stress, prevent fights and bites, and create a feeling of safety for them. And better communication with your dog only leads to a better relationship.

Great reading material and visual aids:

Canine Body Language in the Dog Park

Stress Signals

Calming Signals

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Prevent Door Darting

One of the questions on my new-client questionnaire is "Does your dog attempt to dart though an open door?" I’m always careful when entering a client's home, but if the answer to that question is "yes," then careful doesn't cut it. I need to be vigilant. It’s stressful; especially since the same dogs usually try to do the same thing when the door to the Element opens. This is the first thing I teach every single new dog - they must wait until I tell them it's ok to jump out. Otherwise they would be jumping out at every new pick up and drop off spot. But what happens when it's not me or the client coming through the front door, but rather a cleaning service or a contractor? Their job isn't to mind the dog. I arrived at client's home one day, a couple of years ago and the contractor told me the dog ran out as soon as he arrived, and that he had to chase him 3 blocks to the park. This story ended "well," but they don't all, sadly.

So, read this article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal, follow the protocol and keep your dog safe.

 

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Nicole Wilde Seminar, Part 2: Dog Play - by Katie Hood

Part 2 of Nicole's day was entitled “Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play”. My time dog walking with Christine at oh my dog!, nerding out with other canine professionals, as well as my years of working with dogs, prepared me for this part of the seminar. I was happy to find I already possessed much of the knowledge covered and also had a few beliefs confirmed. Nicole showed lots of video of different kinds of play in a dog park ranging from happy play with lots of loose body language, to completely petrified dogs whose owners insisted they should “enjoy” the dog park experience when it was clear the only thing the dog would enjoy was leaving. Starting right at the beginning we were reminded why it's important for dogs to play – to establish social bonds, practice social skills, teach bite inhibition, and how far they can push other dogs. Nicole recommended introducing a puppy to a well tempered older dog, preferably female from her experience.

Referencing a study by Dr. Ward, play preferences in dogs was discussed. Dr. Ward videotaped puppies playing and found that the partners they preferred to play with in youth carried on as they aged. They also found that there is a same sex play preference early on, females tend to initiate with other females more often, and male puppies are more likely to handicap themselves in play to encourage the other pup to play with them.

The well known play bow was discussed and outside of being an invitation to play, it was also likened to be a doggie version of a 'lol!' Some dogs will perform a behaviour that could be taken as a threat but will follow it up with a play bow to say 'just kidding'.

Returning to the work of Dr. Ward, healthy play was discussed. It's common to believe that play should be 50/50, for example one dog shouldn't be on the bottom all the time. But in Dr. Ward's study they found in paired play the 50/50 rule did not apply. Nicole talked about different play styles, that a more hesitant/shy dog may not have the desire to be on top during play or that some dogs don't like to chase other dogs but love to be chased. Instead ensure play is healthy by noting friendly body language, that there is some give and take in the play, frequent pauses (don't let the dogs play non-stop and then whip themselves in to a frenzy), and respect for communication. If one dog tries to take a pause in play and the other continues to try to instigate, it may be time for both to have a break or end the play session. What should you watch for in play with your dog to prevent issues? Increased speed, fewer pauses, vertical play increasing instead of horizontal play, rough play increasing, low pitch vocalizations.

A round up of good facts/reminders:

- Socially awkward dogs are opportunistic (have you ever watched a dog trying to mount a dog who's mounting another dog? Awkward.)

- Keep play safe by having done solid attention work with your dog (eye contact!) and good recall.

- Monitor your dog in the park. Don't bring a newspaper or your phone and sit 20 feet away with your back to them.

- The most dangerous factor in dog-dog play is humans! Don't put your dog in a vulnerable position

If you missed Katie's write up of Part One regarding Separation Anxiety, here it is!

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