Thursday, April 1, 2010
How To Train Your Dog To Not Come When Called- A Play In Three Acts
Location: an enclosed, an off-leash Dog Park in Anytown, USA
The players: a dog and his owner, regular visitors to the park
The time: time to go home
Act 1: Owner decides it is time to go and calls the dog. Dog begins sniffing the ground, a few feet away from the man.
Owner calls the dog again-this time a bit more forcefully-he is getting a bit impatient-he has things to do! Dog continues sniffing ground and moves even farther away.
Owner calls dog, but now all pretense of friendliness is gone (darned stubborn dog, he is thinking). “Get over here NOW!”
Dog continues to sniff the ground, stopping to lift a paw as he glances sideways at the owner, not looking him in the eye. Man walks toward dog- dog moves farther away, always staying just out of reach.
Act 2: Man angrily throws his hands up in the air. He stalks around a bit, pulling his hair.
Bing! A light bulb appears.
The man crouches down and calls, sweetly, through gritted teeth, “Here puppy…come here …yes…good boy”.
The dog slowly approaches, on his belly, curling sideways, tail wagging frantically while licking his lips…as soon as he is within reach…
The man grabs his collar, gives it a good shake and scolds, “BAD dog. You COME to me when I call you!!!”
This man has just successfully taught his dog to never come to him again.
Of course, that was not his intent. The man thinks, "I have just corrected my dog for not coming to me. I have taught him a lesson. Next time he will come to me when called".
When this happens again, the man will then assume, “This dog is very stupid. And stubborn. He will not listen”.
Wrong! Here is what the man is missing-the dog is incapable of matching his own action of “not coming” to the collar shake and scolding.
Too much time has passed between the action and the consequence! Let’s break the sequence of events down into tiny pieces using a simple behavioral formula that is easy to remember:
A=Antecedent (what happens before)
B=Behavior (what the dog does)
C=Consequence (what happens as a result)
Antecedent: Dog hears man calling sweetly, “come here, baby”
Behavior: Dog approaches
The dog has just learned: Approach = GRAB/YANK/SCOLD
All that went on before is not in the least tied into the Consequence; a dog’s brain is not capable of putting that complex pattern together.
Dogs are very simple creatures and a human brain is very different than a dogs brain. A huge portion of our brain is devoted to solving complex problems such as remembering consequences in a big- picture format.
Dogs do not have this brainpower and if they did we would be in BIG trouble! In fact, most of their brain is devoted to scenting. They are very good at reacting-a dog smells a rabbit and POW! he reacts by chasing.
This is the saddest part of all; sometimes, when the dog is called, bad things happen- and he has no idea why.
But here is the main problem- we think dogs learn a lesson from a scolding or punishment. They don’t. But they look to us like they do. By cringing and creeping towards you, you naturally assume that the dog “feels guilty because he knows he was bad”.
This is a miscommunication between species. This cringing behavior in Dog Speak means, “I am no harm to you-I do not wish conflict”. The dog does sense the anger despite the man using baby talk to trick the dog into coming to him-perhaps he can even smell it-I would not be surprised. BUT he cannot apply that knowledge to his own actions- the context is lost on him.
So he reacts to this anger by using dog language indicating “no fight, please". When he does this, we see “guilt” because it appears identical to our body language for guilt.
Go back to the paragraph where the dog continued to sniff the ground-this is called a Displacement Behavior. Just as we sometimes fidget when nervous, so do dogs. We rub our arms, smooth our hair, perhaps even pace.
But this looks to us like the dog is purposely ignoring us in favor of sniffing-he is "blowing me off".
If you see your dog sniffing, yawning, blinking, scratching, all out of the blue and out of context (of course dogs do all of these things when they are not stressed, too!), he may be experiencing some stress. Paw lifts are another means to signal, “I do not wish conflict”.
Act 3: If you want your dog to come to you when called you must begin to establish a strong history of reinforcement for this (remember ABC?). Make sure only good things happen when he is called. Never ever scold your dog for coming to you.
If “bad things” such as leaving fun behind must occur (we do live in the real world, after all and disappointment is part of life!) then make leaving unpredictable-if your dog hates to leave the dog park, practice calling him to you and when he comes give him a pat or play a quick game of fetch and then release him to play.
Mix it up, in other words. Giving him a cookie when you get into the car can also build a strong association of Good Things happening when we leave the park.
Finale: Remember the ABC's! Before applying a human explanation to a dog behavior, stop and ask yourself, what consequence is at work here? If it is reinforcing for the dog, it will be repeated-for better or worse.