Dogs, even young puppies, grasp the idea quickly that when you call their name you’d like them to come. The struggle with recall is a world full of distractions – things your dog would rather do. Your request for return needs proofing, right? Yes. And, no.
Proofing means mastering a skill in all kinds of environments. Come to me not only inside the house but in the backyard, at the park and on the beach. Come not just when you’ve got nothing better to do but when you are engrossed in watching or chasing birds, playing with other dogs, seeing people, following an exciting scent, etc.
Focusing on proofing alone is often not enough. It can feel very much like an uphill battle. Frustrating and demoralising. Your dog ignores you, it’s as if you don’t exist. There are several possible reasons for this. In this article I’d like to discuss one of them and how to remedy it: Over-excitement.
Is your dog just sooo excited when seeing other dogs, people, cars, birds and other wildlife, cyclists, water, all of the above?
Stop trying to recall your dog from these stimulation overloads and instead concentrate on teaching your dog to be calm around them.
The best way I know of helping dogs – and all animals – to learn how to be low-key in previously exciting situations is the Trust Technique. When your dog is over the top, they literally can’t hear you because there is a rock concert going on in their head. If they learn how to be laid-back instead, you come into focus for them.
Spoiler alert: This doesn’t happen overnight. Stick with it, though, and you’ll see progress. Be patient – allow the time it takes. Be mindful of your inner state. Let go of your own inner rock concert. Be kind – acknowledge the little successes.
While you are helping your dog to feel calm in previously exciting situations, keep working on proofing their recall within the realm of the doable. That means in the meantime to not put your dog in situations where they can’t listen yet. Do not let them off-lead and expect them to come when their excitement is still getting the better of them. If you do, you are perpetuating the problem.
For some people it can be hard to imagine to temporarily take away situations that their dog finds so enjoyable, for example, the dog park. If it’s a safely fenced area you let your dog run free and you are not emotionally prepared (yet) to take a break from that, then change what you do: Do not call them to come. Instead, when you’d like to leave, walk up to them to clip on the lead. If your dog starts making that into a game of ‘you can’t catch me’, leave the lead clipped on when you arrive and drop it to let it trail, it’s easier to capture them that way when it’s time to go.
In the long run, you are not doing your dog a favour by letting them off lead when your relationship lacks the level of connection where they are unable to come when called. Consider the big picture: What’s a few months compared to your dog’s entire life?
Vadar (photo above) is one of my clients’ dog. She has been learning how to stay calm and how to return to calm quickly if overstimulated. Using the Trust Technique has been a game-changer for her family. They are so motivated by the little changes they observe about their dog every day. Vadar’s anxious urine leaks have markedly decreased. Situations that used to send her diving under the bed in fear, she is able to face now and be ok with. Situations that used to send her over the top with excitement, she is more often able to remain calm.
How long does it take? How long is a piece of string?
Vadar and her family started using the Trust Technique on a daily basis 5 weeks ago. They are thrilled with how far they have come since. Of course, there is still more work to be done. But now they know how to get there.
Do you need a hand with your dog’s recall, anxiety, over-excitement? Book a 15-minute free Zoom to find out how I can help you.