i can hear you. i’m choosing not to respond.

I probably shouldn’t admit this… there are times when Lucy, my Golden Retriever, doesn’t respond to me when I call her name.  And I call myself a certified dog trainer!

This happens when Lucy is near water.  Swimming pool, lake, creek, large puddle of water. She doesn’t discriminate. Lucy is obsessed with swimming.  This is one of my favorite things about her.  She is so happy when she’s soaking wet and swimming is terrific exercise, particularly for large breeds since it’s low-impact.

My challenge is this: typically with dogs, you can trigger a response with the offer of something on which your dog places a high value.  Think about how you use treats when teaching new behaviors.  The more the dog likes the treat, the better, faster, more precise the response.  Cheese will get a faster recall (“Come”) than your dog’s usual kibble.  The thing that Lucy values most in life is swimming.  There is nothing else that will change her focus from the water; not her loyalty to me and my husband, not food, not her favorite squeaky tennis ball, not her favorite Frisbee.  So, what’s a girl to do??

Leadership exercises are key in your relationship with your dog. Leadership – not dominance. I do not want to force Lucy to respond to me when I’m calling her while she’s engaged in her favorite activity.  I also don’t want to be seen as the certain end to her fun. Here’s a suggested approach:

During play times with me or with other dogs, during exercise, during swim time… during any activity where there are high distractions, I find opportunities to remind Lucy that I am there and to encourage and reward her for checking in with me. While she is intently engaged with something or someone else, I’ll periodically go over to her, get her attention by saying her name, ask for a quick sit, give her some praise and send her off to play again.  This reminds her that I am present and, since I am releasing her to play again, reinforces the idea that I’m not always ending her playtime.

With this exercise, your dog also learns that checking in with you is a good thing – the dog gets praise and that is certain to be seen as positive reinforcement!

This is part of the Puppy Kindergarten group training class that I teach at The Pet Campus in Pineville, PA. I work with owners on how to reinforce their role with their puppy during play. Each week we have multiple off leash playtimes where owners learn to bridge the gap between work (training) and play with their dogs.

Encourage and reward your dog for being with you, paying attention to you (provoked and especially unprovoked). Build your bond. It will pay off for you and strengthen your relationship with your dog!

Bookmark and Share

1 Comment

  1. Lucy wants to keep her girlish figure with some great exercise on a hot day! What wonderful insight into the complex mind of a dog. I used to underestimate my dogs actions; thinking everything was simply survival based, so it’s good to know that they are capable of so much more! When Maple is smiling and wagging her tail when I come home I know there’s a lot of thought in that little head !

Leave a Reply