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Does your dog come to you when you call or when it is ready?

Last week I wrote about the need to gain your dog’s attention in order for you to not only teach them but to be able to influence them in the future. How many people have dogs that when you call them simply ignore you? It is so infuriating especially if the dog always comes for his meal or comes to you in the local dog training class yet if there is something else to distract them, there is no response.

I regularly look at my website statistics to discover the most popular questions people are asking using various search engines. Having a good recall is nearly always at the top of the list.

The most common search is to find some quick and easy secret of how to teach dogs to come when called under any circumstances. If a dog is not paying attention to the come command it must have its attention on something better. How do you compete with the bitch down the street or chase the local cat?

There are many websites that do say, “Pay me money, and I will teach you how to get your dog to come to you every time you call it.” Once you have paid over your money you find it is not a secret at all. It is just the same old methods of training either using enforcement or of positive reward training. Whichever method you chose they all come back to Pavlov’s methods of conditioning.

I know many people say they do not wish to Condition their dog as if it were some sort of brain washing. The number of times owners have told me there is no way they would ever wish to have to condition their dog. It is as if they think their dog becomes something less and no longer a pet. Often the fear is they have witnessed enforcement training where they use a long line and say come whilst pulling hard so making the dog come to them every time. Yes, it works but that is no reason that owners have to use it when there are alternatives.

There is nothing wrong with using the term conditioning. All of us learned using conditioned training if you sit back and analyse it. Just the phrase of “Your Attention Please” will automatically turn heads. Driving a car is conditioned response training as is any type of marshal art or service fight training. Even cooking contains a high degree of condition reflexes needed to prepare a meal correctly. How many times do you look at your phone when you dial the numbers? Even the way we speak with accents or dialects is conditioning training.

Using this technique, we quicken our responses so that our brain does not consciously have to think about each repetitive and necessary reaction. Therefore, what is wrong with training a dog the same way?

All young creatures see their leaders (parents) bringing them food so if you step out into your garden if you have a young rabbit it will often come over to see you. Young puppies will always come to you when you call because they have to but as they grow it all goes wrong with animals and human relationships; Why?

Our problem is inadvertently there are more meetings with pets and owners where the owners do not give either food or praise. As in Pavlov’s tests, the dogs stopped salivating when they heard the bell because they learned it no longer indicated food was coming. Do this enough times to our pets and they learn to give up coming to meet us, as there is no benefit to them.

For me training Ferrets, dogs, birds, fish, horses, cats etc they all come for food. The problem is they do this only when they are hungry. We all can appreciate that it will be more difficult to call your dog if you have taken it out after it has eaten. This means that food is good as a reward but it is not the complete answer.

If you watch wolves, the Alphas nearly always eat first, except when food is in short supply and then the cubs have first priority. Once the alphas are full, they leave the area so in other words they give the others the remaining food. If they feel one wolf is becoming above his station an alpha will retake the food off them not to eat but only to show the food always belongs to them as the leaders. Therefore, wolves are using food to stamp their authority not as rewards.

Such actions show that leadership skills are important in the social structure of the wolf pack. The problem for dogs is how many owners are interested in learning such necessary skills. I accept that many dogs are not a problem so why do they need to do such training. It is possible such people do in fact have ordinary leadership qualities, which their dog recognises and respect. Another reason is that some dogs do not have any interest in trying to be leader.

As dogs are still wolves, so if they are beneath the leaders, they should go where the leaders go. If they do not, then who are the real leaders within the human/canine pack? If your dog goes wondering off on its own, he must think he is a leader, this then creates a problem of how do you train a dog that thinks it is leader instead of the owners. Offering food is fine but then the dog wonders off again as it has a right too.

Though animals may not use food as a reward, we do see rewards of another sort that of mutual grooming and nibbling the neck. The alternative is when a member is naughty they use ostracising from the community as a punishment.

Watch any herd of horses and when one is disobedient it is pushed out of the herd and none of the horses will let it back in until it changes its ways. The fear of being outside the community is not an acceptable option, as it will not survive. Once the errant member does improve, then it returns to community followed by rewards of nibbling of the neck and it is possible to see the change in the body language. In wolves we just have watch how their tails wag and this is why I asked last week do you know how to make your dogs tail wag for you.

If we look at humans and animals, we can see a continuous need to learn so they watch and copy. If they do something enough times and it is rewarding they will do it again providing what they do is acceptable to the community and it particular the leaders to maintain a harmony.

This all means that for us to be able to train our dogs we must have a good social structure where humans are always leaders. Because of this, our dogs will show us respect and their attention so as we can teach them to interpret our commands. When they are good, we praise them and we can use food to help reinforce the reward.

By teaching our dogs an action and to continually repeat it for rewards; they will learn that it is worth doing again. If they are doing something wrong, we ignore them but this brings us back to leadership because ignoring a dog that thinks its leader will be fruitless.

The so-called advertised secret, if you can call it a secret, is how to use leadership to maintain our dog’s submissive attention using continual repetitions to condition them over a short period giving many rewards of fussing reinforced with food if you need to. But we already knew that didn’t we.

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