Friday, February 10, 2012

Owner "Untrains" Their Dog - Coming When Called

A simple yet frustrating problem: the dog won't come in the house when called.  It's a problem that repeats itself day after day.  Sometimes the dog will come, but often it won't.  Is training with treats the problem?  Does it backfire and create these situations?  A lot of owners think so.

In truth, it's a problem of "untraining" where what an owner does (how they respond to a dog not doing what they are told), actually makes the problem worse.  "Untraining" is the process of reinforcing the bad, unwanted behavior, instead of the good, desired behavior. It goes a little like this:

Owner Untrains Dog, by Mary Majchrowski

Scene: Dog is in the backyard.  Owner is in the house, getting ready for work.  Owner decides it is time for dog to come in the house.

"Dog!" yells Owner. "Dog, it's time to come inside! Come Dog, Come!"

Dog pricks an ear in mock interest.  Dog continues sniffing Very Interesting Leaf.

"Dog!" Owner calls again. "I need to go to work.  Let's Go!  Come on, Dog!"  Owner's voice gets louder and more desperate.  "Not today Dog, I need to get going!"

Dog leaves Very Interesting Leaf and catches a glimpse of Totally Fascinating Squirrel.

"Dog, Come!" yells Owner.

"Squirrel, Run!" barks Dog.

"Dog, Come!" Owner repeats, with a threatening tone.

"Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel," Dog barks.

"Stubborn Dog," Owner mutters, turning back into the house.  Owner goes to the pantry and gets The Box.  Owner returns to back door with The Box.  Dog turns and looks at Owner.  Owner shakes The Box.

"Dog, want a cookie?  Treat, you wanna treat?"  Dog saunters over to Owner and gets a treat from The Box.  Owner grabs the dog's collar and drags Dog into the house. 

"Bad Dog!" Owner exclaims.  "You never do what I say!"

So, there are a few issues with the scene above.  How many can you find?  Let's go through them one by one, with the appropriate responses included.
  1. Wrong Way:  Not using a single, trained cue word.  The owner in this case tells the dog come, come on, let's go and many other words.  Right Way: Practice inside the house teaching your dog a single, recognizable cue word, like "come" or "here." Train your dog to understand the cue before you expect them to respond to it, especially in distracting situations like where there are leaves and squirrels.
  2. Wrong Way: The treat is offered after the dog has disobeyed.  After repeated failed attempts at calling the dog in, the owner then goes and gets the cookie box. The treat then becomes a reward for not coming when called - the dog will learn "If I ignore my owner long enough, eventually they will go get the cookies!" Right Way: While your dog is learning, set a jar of treats near the back door.  Every time you go to bring your dog inside get a cookie for your dog, then call him or her in.
  3. Wrong Way: The owner used the treat as a bribe, not a reward.  By waiting until the dog had refused to come and then luring it in with the promise of food (shaking the cookie box), the owner bribed the dog.  Right Way:  Always pick up the treat before calling your dog.  If they initially get a treat every time they come inside, the dog will learn that they get good things for coming when called.  That is reinforcing good behavior. 
  4. Wrong Way: The dog was punished (grabbed by the collar and yelled at) once it finally did come.  The dog will eventually learn to dread responding to the "come" command if punishment is the end result.  Right Way:  Praise your dog when they come to you, even if they didn't come right away, even if you had to chase them around the neighborhood for 20 minutes first.  If the dog ultimately comes to you (or even just allows themselves to be caught), that behavior should be rewarded.  Be the "good guy," even if you are angry.  Dogs connect praise to the last thing they did, like coming to you.

1 comment:

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