Ask the Trainer Carousing for critters’ natural spring behavior
April 16, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
I am writing about a new problem we are having with our 2-year-old Brittany. We rescued Scout last year and completed your Adult Manners class a couple of months ago. We have continued to work on the cues we learned and overall he is doing so much better, however, all of a sudden he doesn't listen at all when we call him on walks. Any advice?
A Frustrated Dog Walker
I'm so happy you asked this question, as I'm sure it will resonate with many other readers! Every spring I have the same problem with my dog and many of the other dogs I walk. There are plenty of baby critters living in logs, holes and other hidden places and the predatory instinct in some dogs comes out in full force this time of year. Certain breeds like Weimaraners, Spaniels and Terriers are more inclined to hunt critters and can entertain themselves for hours in a log pile. Recall (coming when called) becomes very difficult with hunters this time of year. Once a dog has located potential prey and is engaged in the hunt, they become so focused they literally don't hear you calling them. Here are a few things you can try to make your springtime walks less frustrating:
1. Carry great treats. I very seldom carry treats on walks unless I have a new dog with me or it's spring. You are competing with a pretty awesome environment right now so give yourself every advantage. Before starting your walk, do some name association exercises by saying "Scout" in a happy, high pitched voice and follow it with a great treat. This will let him know that when he hears his name a wonderful reward will follow.
2. Once you begin the walk, call him back to you and give him a treat. Repeat this a few times so he will know that paying attention to you will pay off. If he does happen to check in during your walk without being called, reward him. Checking-in is an important recall skill.
3. If you call your dog's name and he doesn't look up, don't bother saying another word because he isn't hearing you. At this point, your only option is to walk over to him, calmly leash him up and continue your walk together. Once you are a safe distance away, let him off leash.
4. During the course of your walk when he isn't hunting, play a hide-and-seek game by hiding behind a tree and then call his name. When he finds you, reward him. This ups the "fun factor" and increases the probability that he will keep an eye out for you during the walk.
Springtime walks can be frustrating, but keep in mind that critter season will pass. The training and management tools you use to get through it will just make Scout's recall better when it's over.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at email@example.com