Why it's so important to teach your dog to come when called
Ever been out with your off-lead dog and it alerts to something? Maybe another dog, a person, a child, a kangaroo or bird.
Ever thought ... eeeep ... this is going to go pear-shaped? Knowing that your dog is going to take off after the object of interest and completely ignore all your calls for its return?
Does it get your heart pounding when they do this? Maybe they narrowly miss getting hit by a car or perhaps they are headed straight for a dog fight. Nothing gets the adrenaline going more, that's for sure.
So why doesn't your dog listen to you?
There are a few factors at play here but first and foremost is Relationship. When training, it is one of the most essential elements you can achieve with your dog. Without that, your dog believes everything else is more important / interesting than you.
Where do we start? We start by building Engagement with you to help develop that relationship and ensure you are the most important thing in their life. Much more important than the jogger, bird, skippy, cyclist etc
A dog that won't recall is a dangerous dog, either to itself or to something else. A solid recall could save its life.
I believe it is THE most important obedience exercise you can teach them.
But like all training it takes time. It takes Consistency. It takes Clarity and it takes clear Communication - The 3Cs.
If your dog doesn't recall reliably, it is an accident waiting to happen and you have 2 options - Management (dog remains on lead whenever you are out) or Training.
Which one will you choose?
How emotions affect behaviour ...
Just as dogs have evolved from wolves, so to has our training regimens undergone an evolution over the years. What was once an expectation that the dog will obey, usually via the use of what some call “yank and crank”, has emerged into a much more beautiful picture of a willing partnership between man and beast.
Even more encouraging is the way in which we view our training partners – not as mindless, soulless creatures, but as emotional sentient beings who feel pain, have moods and fears and likes and desires. They are more like us than many would give them credit for. And just like us their behaviour reflects their emotions.
And, it must be said, that emotions are essential to our survival. They keep us alive. For example, without fear how would we know to run from the attacking lion?
Loneliness drives us to seek out social interaction. Curiosity helps us problem solve and ensures we learn as we progress through life – for good or for bad!
A child who throws a tantrum in a supermarket because mum won’t buy him a sweet is displaying a behaviour but the emotion behind that behaviour is what is actually driving it. That emotion is likely Rage (as detailed by Estonian-American neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp’s Seven Core Emotions,2004[i]).
If a dog is reacting aggressively towards another dog, in most cases the emotion behind the behaviour (barking and lunging at the end of the lead, for example) is likely Fear. (Note: this is not always the case and can also sometimes be attributed to Rage).
It is clear in both these examples that it is the emotion driving the behaviour and, as such, a trainer must address the Reason, and not just the Reaction. Just to be clear, yes, the reaction must be tackled but a holistic trainer, must be mindful that if the Reason is not acknowledged, it is the same as taking a pill for the headache. The cause is not addressed.
Emotion plays an enormous role in behaviour and it is hoped more trainers will come to understand this and not look for the ‘quick fixes’ of the past. It’s easy to strap on a bark collar to stop a dog barking when left alone but what does it actually achieve accept pain and fear? When we are really frightened learning becomes impossible, and the outcome is a dog that shuts down and can’t think. The behaviour is stopped, yes, but what learning has occurred?
The flipside is that dopamine is associated with focus and quick learning and interestingly, here the role of the gut can come into play: “Surprisingly, the health of your intestinal flora impacts your production of neurotransmitters. An overabundance of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which destroy the brain cells that make dopamine.” [ii]
Other factors that will play a role in a healthier mindset (by boosting dopamine levels) include ensuring the dog is receiving enough exercise, providing an appropriate raw food diet, ensuring the dog is a healthy weight and addressing any obesity issues, using massage and T-Touch, playing soothing music, and supplementing the diet with anti-inflammatory organic curcumin in the form of Golden Paste.
[i] Panksepp, Jaak, 2004, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions
[ii] Alban, Deanne, 2016, How to Increase Dopamine Naturally, Be Braiin Fit, Better Mind, Better Life
What can affect behaviour?
There are many things that can affect behaviour in dogs. And as a holistic trainer they all must be looked at. It’s important to keep in mind however that behaviour is affected by both nature and nurture.
Adrienne Janet Farricelli lists a number of these including genes, breed, experiences in the litter, the puppy critical period, effects of the environment and health. [i]
Not only can genes affect the health of a dog (a clear example of this is hip dysplasia passed on down through the lines) but also behaviour. For example, a fearful dog can pass on its fear to its puppies. And yes, some breeds are more susceptible to separation anxiety than others.
There is little one can do to affect genes for the individual dog (once it is born). However, genes can be affected over time throughout a breeding program by choosing dogs which carry the desired traits and ensuring those with undesirable traits are not used. In the same way wolves evolved into dogs (through a gradual choosing of puppies with likely a more affectionate nature and willingness to have human contact) to the way dogs have been bred to display certain traits such as guarding or herding, so too can we affect change in the traits we want in our dogs.
When it comes to dogs which already carry an existing gene, eg fear, then we must take a holistic approach to support that dog through appropriate training and enrichment, environment and health/diet.
This is rather evident in the classification of dogs into eg working, sport, guarding etc. Each has its own traits which affect how it interacts with its environment.
Dogs with jobs are fulfilling their natural purpose. A border collie which herds cattle or sheep all day is obeying its very nature. A border collie left alone in the backyard with no enrichment/exercise is likely to behave in an undesirable manner. However, a border collie without access to herding can still have its needs met in a city environment thanks to activities such as agility, or enrichment protocols that tap into its drives. Hence, it is helpful to know, even with mixed breeds, which traits might be foremost in its genetic make-up and activities and enrichment put in place to fulfill its needs.
IN THE LITTER:
Puppies start to experience life in the litter and how to react towards the world. It can be influenced by the size of the litter, how the mother looks after the puppies, interaction with its litter mates and, of course, if it is separated from its litter at too young an age the emotional and behavioural repercussions.
It is incumbent on the breeder to give the puppies the best start in life. If the mother is not coping, then the breeder must provide her with all the support she needs. Providing the puppies with enrichment as they slowly grow can include exposure to experiences including a variety of noises, being touched all over their bodies, toe nail cutting, different obstacles, smells and textures, etc. The goal is to create a confident, balanced dog. Where good protocols are not put in place, this can result in a dog that is unsure, fearful or reactive to certain stimuli and environments. If this occurs, taking a holistic approach is essential to formulate a plan to build confidence. This will include training which will involve problem solving and confidence building exercises, creating an environment where the dog feels safe and is under threshold and working towards lessening that threshold on a daily basis.
CRITICAL PERIOD DEVELOPMENT:
This socialisation period from four weeks to four months is called “critical” for a reason. And it is to be hoped the breeder sets the right tone from which the owner continues.
Taking a holistic approach, while it is important that the dog is protected from the risks of diseases such as parvovirus and distemper, it is also essential the puppy is socialised. This does not mean introducing it to other unknown dogs or taking it to dog parks where disease may be rife, but it can certainly mean taking the puppy out and about in a controlled sense, under the arm, so it can still experience life and gain confidence. Take it to playgrounds, shopping centres, the vets, and other areas where it can observe children, noise, cars, water, etc in a controlled manner and feel protected and safe. Where a dog might miss this critical socialisation period, developmental behavioural issues may arise such as fear, anxiety, reactivity. Again, if this occurs training and confidence building exercises, working under threshold, must be put in place to help the dog overcome its difficulties. A dog with no exposure to life knows little about it and has no idea how to cope or deal with it. BUT, it must be said it is also essential to start teaching the puppy to be home alone, gradually, over time, so it learns to be independent and confident when you walk out the door.
It should be obvious that environment will play a factor in dog behaviour, just as it does with a child growing up in a home devoid of love and enrichment. According to Farricelli: “Here the owner may come into play. Litters of puppies raised in dark garages with no sensorial stimulation may be affected for life. Dogs abused, or on the contrary, spoiled may also undergo behavioral changes. If a dog has bad experiences it may become fearful and defensive, whereas if it has many good experiences his confidence will grow. The environment may play a big role in a dog's behavior and it may help dogs born with bad genes or it may turn bad good dogs blessed with good genes.”
Evidently, a dog with no enrichment, no exercise, no mental stimulation will suffer the consequences via behavioural issues. Studies have shown us that most dogs which are surrendered to shelters are teenagers (seven months to two years) and have behaviour issues stemming from lack of training and enrichment. These dogs need positive training and enrichment, and lots of it to help them become better canine citizens. Dogs which have been abused need help overcoming their fear of humans and on the opposite spectrum, overly spoilt dogs can act out in a very unattractive manner and may need help becoming more “dog” than pampered furry human.
This may be one of the most overlooked factors which contribute to behaviour.
Science is always evolving and more recently the connection between the gut and the brain has been determined. A study by the University of California Los Angeles has found gut microbes to be linked to areas of the brain which affect mood and behaviour, including (potentially) on our response to fear. [ii]
Further research has also shown that inflammation as an immune response to obesity, high-sugar diets, high quantities of trans fats and unhealthy diets, may also be the precursor to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. [iii] This is one reason I advocate all my clients put their dogs on a raw food diet rather than highly processed pre-packaged dog foods.
There are a number of protocols we can put in place to help, for example, the gut (and therefore minimise any negative impact it might have on behaviour). These include titer testing instead of over-vaccinating, using a holistic vet instead of pumping the dog full of steroids, providing fresh rain water instead of chlorinated, using natural remedies for worming, fleas and ticks. Provide probiotics and prebiotics, provide a balanced raw food diet and remove grains, preservatives, sugars and processed foods. Supplement with bone broth, fermented foods and digestive enzymes, along with turmeric (anti-inflammatory) and slippery elm or marshmallow root (to line the gut). Alleviate stress where possible. It should also be noted that exercise can also help alleviate a leaky gut – about 30 minutes a day.
[i] Farricelli, Adrienne Janet, 2016, Factors Known to Influence a Dog's Behavior
[ii] IFLScience, 2017, Our Gut Microbes Strongly Influence Our Emotional Behaviors
[iii] Silcox, Katie, 2017, The Link Between Your Emotions and Your Digestion
[iv] McConnell, Patricia, PhD, CAAB, 2011, Your Dog Has a Brain in His Gut
[v] Dogs Naturally, 2017, Leaky Gut Workbook
[vi] Lomonaco, Casey, 2010, Nine Calming Aids for Fearful, Anxious, or Nervous Dogs, dogster.com
[vii] Miho Nagasawa,Shouhei Mitsui, Shiori En, Nobuyo Ohtani, Mitsuaki Ohta, Yasuo Sakuma, Tatsushi Onaka, Kazutaka Mogi, Takefumi Kikusui, 2015, Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds