Behavior professionals often define “reliable” as responding appropriately to the cue at least 80 percent of the time. That means your dog sits at least 8 out of 10 times when you ask him to. It’s unreasonable to expect 100 percent reliability from your dog. It takes commitment to your training program to achieve reliability under a wide variety of conditions. Let’s explore some of the elements that make for true reliability.
My dog, Molly, runs like the wind. When I see her run, it is impossible for me not to appreciate the beautiful, graceful way she moves. She is also a rescue dog, with a number of canine behavior problems caused by severe neglect in her first few months. The combination of a bad environment and a fearful temperament created a dog who protects herself by aggressively warning off any stranger. An occasional off-leash run is one of the few ways I can give Molly enough exercise to keep her calm and make her unequivocally happy, and this practice is improving our relationship. It’s not without some stress, however.
Dog owners often bemoan the paucity of public places in our society where their dogs are welcome. We band together and lobby mightily to secure small spaces in our communities for dog parks. We struggle to preserve dog-use rights in public common areas. And while I share the dismay over the shrinking access for our canine companions, I know that to a large degree we’ve brought it on ourselves by our collective carelessness about proper public and leash-walking etiquette.
Does your dog know how to target? If not, the two of you may be missing out on one of the most versatile behaviors to come along since the rise in popularity of the positive dog training philosophy.
When it comes to learning to come when called, not all dogs are created equal. Some dogs learn the “recall” very easily. They seem to know instinctively that coming when called is to their advantage. Others will come when called most of the time, perhaps more reluctantly. For some dogs, however, coming when called is the most challenging behavior they will ever learn – especially when faced with choosing between complying with the request and distractions like squirrels, cats, balls, or other dogs.
How to safely confine burrowers, bounders, beavers, and bolters. Otis the Bloodhound was an opportunistic escapee. I discovered his talent one day while working at the front desk at the Marin Humane Society, early in my animal protection career. A woman came in asking if we might know where a Bloodhound lived, because he kept visiting her house every day. He was charming, she said, but she worried that he might get hit by a car.
Walking politely at your side doesn’t seem like it should be so difficult to teach a dog, but it often proves to be the most challenging behavior for dog owners to achieve. Dogs who are letter-perfect with their sits and downs, targeting, and “leave it” exercises in the training center happily drag their owners across the parking lot to and from their cars before and after class.
Teaching your dog to focus on you (on cue!) is a vitally useful skill – and not that difficult if you follow our step-by-step directions. If you’ve ever watched an obedience competition and marveled at the dogs who gaze intently at their handlers’ faces throughout the entire test, never once breaking eye contact, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
The best leash-walking products are effective in helping the owner train the dog not to pull (that is, they provide a large enough window of opportunity for the owner to successfully train the desired walking behavior), minimally aversive to the dog, easy to use, well-made, and affordable. (We put price last, since most owners of leash-pulling dogs would pay almost anything for a product that really helps them!)
There is no way to guarantee the safety of your dog off leash. I would like to think that if we trained hard enough, or long enough, or with the right methods, that we could overcome all of the risks, that our dogs really could be completely reliable and safe. But the fact is that when dogs are off leash in an unsecured area, there will always be a chance that their instincts or desires will lead them into the path of danger. In addition, our environment is often unpredictable. When dogs are off leash, there is the chance of a sudden bang, an unexpected animal, or something else that may frighten or harm our dogs.
Do you gaze with envy at dogs who walk politely by their owners’ sides, while yours tows you down the sidewalk? Not only is it annoying to have a dog drag you on leash, it can also seriously damage your dog’s trachea and spine. Plus, dogs who strain at their leashes (and who subsequently get jerked by their frustrated handlers) are more likely to have spinal misalignments, and dogs with spinal problems have a much higher incidence of aggressive and/or hyperactive behavior problems.
These "no-pull" products can help you train your dog, but they don’t work at all if they are misused.