River, 10 weeks old! Photo Credit: KaityJo Photography
So What Is The Secret?
Dog trainers are capable of training their dogs to do pretty much anything; it’s just a matter of how much time and effort you want to put into it. We’ve all seen some pretty incredible YouTube videos I’m sure! I’m here to let you in on a secret, though. Just because we can doesn’t mean that we do. In fact, there’s a secret we use on a regular basis to ensure happy dogs and happy people. It’s called management.
In the dog training world, we often talk about management and training together. Typically, with a behavior issue, you need both. The steps you take to control the environment and prevent the unwanted behavior from happening is called management. We pair that with training a behavior we do want in place of the unwanted behavior. The two work hand in hand.
The secret, though, is that we often use management with our own dogs rather than train them to be perfect. It takes a considerable amount of time, effort, forethought, and persistence to teach a near-perfect recall. That is, teaching your dog to come when called in any situation. It can be done, but the work involved is significant.
Coming When Called
For example, I know that Mica, at 3 years old and with considerable training, has a very good recall. (See how to train an automatic recall here!) However, I know that coming back to me when there are a lot of people and dogs nearby and I don’t have a toy in hand is a challenge for him. He has a brilliant work mode, so I am fully confident that if I have a tennis ball, Frisbee, or other kind of toy with me that he will be 100% focused on me to the exclusion of the entire world. That’s why it is easy for us to do disc demos with no fence or go to parks to play ChuckIt. I know that, with one word or even just a gesture, he will be right by my side in a flash and will wait there patiently until I release him.
Doing a disc demo in Vermont
In short, I know what circumstances mean a solid recall and which situations are a challenge for him. In those challenging situations, I choose to keep him on leash. Rather than chance him becoming more interested in one of his difficult distractors (squirrels, rabbits) I simply leash him up. If you still want the idea of freedom, use a long line. It allows your dog more freedom to roam but gives you the security of being able to reel them in if necessary. For puppy River, at six months old, this is what I use while I continue to train her “come” cue.
The leash and long line are examples of management. Another method of managing your dog’s choice to come back when called is to choose not to put her in situations where she is overly excited or overstimulated by her environment. Taking a super excited pup to a dog park and asking her to walk on leash with you around the perimeter is a bit unfair. She will be so overstimulated by the activity going on that your walk will be unproductive and stressful for both of you.
So, the next time you hit the trail or head to the dog park, take a moment to think about your dog’s skills. Is it easier to use management rather than rolling the dice on her response to a command? One thing is certain: you can never fully control any situation. Let me know where you use management in the comments below! Any questions? Leave me a note!