Get Back Here You Brat
One of the most cited reasons for the use of a shock collar is to get reliable recalls from a dog. It can be very challenging to come up with an alternative for a dog which is as, or more reinforcing, than doing whatever it is the dog is choosing to do rather than return when called. So people quickly choose to use other options for changing behavior and those are using punishment or negative reinforcement. If you’re not a trainer, don’t worry about all the training lingo. It’s helpful to understand it, but I think it’s enough to keep in mind that dogs will repeat behaviors they are rewarded for and will get better at behaviors they repeat.
Nibbles came to live with us just over a year ago. He spent a few months too afraid for us handle him. He’s over that now and is one of the most affectionate and engaging dogs in the house. But Nibs like to chase things. He likes to chase things he can see and things he can only smell the track they have left behind. When we went for our daily walk in the woods as soon as I unclipped the leash it was his cue to bolt. His body vibrated in anticipation of being able to run off and my calling him seemed to mean nothing.
On our walks it’s not that big of an issue. I like my dogs to have the opportunity to run in the woods and most of the time they either stick with me, or check in regularly. But Nibs also likes to chase joggers and bikers going by in front of our house. I knew that if I was going to stand a chance of getting him to come when I called him when he had a bike to chase, I’d need to get him to come to me when there wasn’t. He knows what to do when I say come and wait. He can perform both when there’s nothing else of interest around. I know that before we decide to use punishment with a dog we need to be sure that the dog knows and can perform the behavior we are asking of them*. I worked on ways to make it more likely that Nibbles would come when I called him at the start of our walks, where he was more likely not to come when called.
I used two leashes so that the sound and feel of a leash being unclipped ceased to be the cue for being able to race off. Haha Nibs, that’s when my bigger brain comes in handy! Well, except for the time I dropped the second leash and he took off dragging it along with him. That’s what fast reflexes will get a dog. I started going for walks before breakfast and using super good food treats along the way. When Nibbles didn’t come when I called him I took all the dogs and turned around and walked away from him. Running in the woods is fun and all, but it’s better with company. As a matter of course I give dogs treats when leashes come off. This keeps them sticking around for that, though in Nib’s case was not enough to counter the allure of the possibilities awaiting in the woods.
Here’s a video of where we are with his recall now.
Once I packed the camera up we joined Nibs and Sunny on the trail. They were running back down the trail to find us.
*When you are working with a dog with fear based behavior challenges you MUST factor in that a dog is not coming to you because they are afraid to do so. Don’t even consider punishing a dog for this.