I am heading towards our front gate to retrieve a package. And I am also waiting with Deuce and Rio for a friend of mine that is bringing her dog over to play.
She shows up a bit earlier and spots the package. With the front gate now wide-open she retrieves the package.
I guess Deuce either recognized the car or decides to rush to the car to say “hi” to whomever might be there. I call at him and he kind of acknowledges me, but keeps heading down the driveway.
I watch as he approaches the car and now my friend is trying to negotiate for the gate, and Deuce coming in.
Rio is next to me so I decide to stay put. I call out to Deuce one more time and he now heads back my way up the driveway. I tell him that he is a good “lad”, but the reality it’s that I am not happy at all with him rushing to the gate.
For now, I concentrate on greeting my friend and reunite the dogs so that the playing can begin, but I realize that Deuce’s over-friendly disposition (which I love) is getting the better of him and that we need much more practice with recall (come when called) and with distractions such as people (added for good measure).
The reality is that one can make all the “excuses” as to why the dog did not respond as we had wanted, but the bottom line is that the dog is under-trained, period!
Yes, of course, Deuce comes to me hundreds of times. I will say that he will come to me 9 out of 10 times when I call him. But the thing is that in order for training to be reliable, we need to incorporate the stimulus (situation) where we want the dog to perform successfully.
Behavior is always context specific. Even smallish changes can throw the dog for a loop. Now, with this in mind, it behooves us to train where we want the behavior to take place. To make matters even more challenging, dogs do not generalize well and this is why we must practice where it matters.
In addition to the above reasons, it is accurate to point out that circumstances (or criteria in dog training lingo) need to also be taken into account when teaching behaviors and expecting the dog to perform. For example: If Deuce and I had been standing farther away from the distraction, and if my friend had not taken so long at the gate retrieving the package, the chances of Deuce not go towards the gate would have gone up. In addition, if indeed, he recognized the car or was able to smell his doggy-friend from afar this in itself makes the temptation much more powerful.
So what is one to do?
First off recognize that the dog is not trying to defy us, being stubborn or “dominant” he just had a stronger reinforcer to respond to at that given moment under those circumstances/context.
If I want to see success in situations like this, I need to practice many times with Deuce in similar situations. To do so, I need to design a training plan that will make it easy for Deuce to be successful. If he is successful and recalls back to me then I can reinforce him. If a behavior gets reinforced over and over again a history of reinforcement is built – sort of like having money in the bank that you can withdraw against. The more money one has the more money one can spend – so the chances of that behavior taking place in the future (under similar circumstances) just went up, way up!
Situations like this are stumbling blocks that we need to appreciate as areas where we need to work with more diligence and clarity. Blaming the dog achieves nothing; training under specific circumstances does. Now, can you guess what I am going to be doing this Friday? Setting up a scenario where both Deuce and Rio can recall back from my friend and her dog. Ah, yes… stay tuned for the next “report”.