I would like to talk about ‘being in control of your dog….’ and dog control.
Ok, lets take a very typical senario with our, almost always, sociable, socially enthusiastic and gregarious breed. They like dogs. They like social contact. They love a good party….
You are walking your Labrador. Lets stereotype here. Lets say its male, its chocolate and its about 12 months old. Lets say you are walking somewhere ‘basically’ safe but an off lead area. Lets say you know your boy loves other dogs so agression is not a factor in your mind. Lets say you have attended puppy training classes, maybe done a very normal amount of follow up training (so actually, not a great deal but a bit in the garden, a bit on walks now and then). Lets say his basic manners are ALL there beautifully when he doesn’t have the temptation of other dogs or distraction. Lets say he is about 95% of the general Labrador, 12 month old walking population
So he’s off lead, and you spot, across the field, someone walking. You strain your eyes to see if they have a dog. DAMN! They DO! You look a bit more to see if its on a lead. Nope. You see its a smallish dog, so the sort your dog is less interested in than if he saw, say another Labrador coming. So you take the chance, and carry on walking. You go another 20 yards and your dog spots the person. At this point the dog is not clearly in sight. Your dog freezes. he is deciding if the pull is enough to make the effort (it probably is….) then he spots the DOG…. You see him grow about two inches in 2 seconds and you make a half hearted attempt, as you always do, as he throws himself into top gear and hurtles in the direction of the dog, to shout ‘Maxxxxxxx Maxxxxxxxxxx oyyyy maxxxxxx!!’ And you stand still…. and watch.
Now, this senario can play out in a lots of ways. It can have a happy ending, little dog stands and wags, Max screams to a halt, owner looks all relaxed and smiley, they sniff, little dog might have a quick play, then owner calls, it walks on…. Max gets the ‘not interested vibe’ and you call and he comes running.
This all may happen BUT Max might follow the dog and owner completely ignoring you, even though he is patently not wanted, so, making it necessary for you to either do the ‘maxxxx I’m going…. i’m going Maxxx’ and the John Cleese fake run in the opposite direction… or sprint up to catch them up and nab Max.
However, soooooooooooo often, this happens. Max charges up. you bellow a bit pointlessly even to YOU as you know its never worked before…. little dog takes one look and flees…. maybe back towards a road…. logically because thats the way its probably COME from its car or house…. owner shrieks after their dog…. Max thinks the dog is HILARIOUS and thunders after its loving this brilliant game. You start to run too after them shouting and bellowing and trying for all the world to make it look like you are DOING something even its its achieving nothing.
Thankfully, common sense tells us that despite this being something happening so frequently, we do not thankfully, hear countless stories of dead dogs on roads chased by over friendly Max’s. SO either the little dog stops at some point and faces him. Max loses his ethusiasm and stops and comes back, clearing the way for the little dog to return. Or they maybe reach a shut gate that neither can get over or under so the dog turns and probably growls and Max comes back to you in a fashion.
However what you CAN 101% guarantee is that the little dog owner will be scared, angry and ready to shriek insults at you ‘get that ******* dog under control, it shouldn’t be off a lead, my dog could have been killed, you have NO control!!!’
I will buy a drink for anyone who has not been in a relatively similar situation at some point with a dog in Max’s mental catagory. The thing is, that those with sensitive, clingy, slightly nervous labradors don’t run into this. NOT because they are fantastic trainers with total control over their dogs, but because the dog doesn’t WANT to go see other dogs, so they have the devils easier job of not making themselves look hopeless owners day in day out, so never feel inferior to the friend, we all inevitably know, with the push button Labrador from day one….. Infact you can bet your boots they are the one doing the bellowing at max’s owner because he bounced over and their nervous darling took flight…. so they hold the cards whichever way you slice it. If you have any as Facebook friends, ‘unfriend’ them immediately. You know it makes sense
OK. So what is ‘being under control’.
I suppose if you take it absolutely black and white, it is ‘every time you give a command, the dog, without hesitation, obeys, regardless of distraction.’
Leans back in her chair and sips tea. Dreams of such a thing. in a dog that hasn’t been built by robots. So lets *actually* presume most of our dogs have been whelped by bitches….
SO, lets look at REAL LIFE control. The first fact that always plays in my head is, to a *certain* extent, and every owner of Max as they drag themselves shamefully from the park after the above horrible senario and a earful of abuse THINKS this….. Ok, YOUR dog wanted to be sociable, and ignored its recall. No doubt. Absolutely. Guilty as charged. So it could create a dangerous situation for itself or others. But IS Mr shrinking violet who is ALSO off the lead, ALSO ignoring a recall and in addition is patently nervous or badly socialised ENTIRELY blameless. Yes in most folks eyes. personally not in mine. YOU don’t want a dog that creates that trouble, but a decently confident or socialised dog shouldn’t flee a approaching dog giving physcial friendly vibes. So as much as its owners will bellow ‘it shouldn’t be off a lead if its out of control’…. you *may* well have the right to bellow ‘Yours shouldn’t be if its a nervous wreak, you KNOW there are dogs here, should we all be walking around with them to heel studiously ignoring every dog that comes anywhere near??’
But however thats not a popular view (although store it as owners with total shrinking violets get as much short shrift from me as I do from them with my Max’….Under certain circumstances. My 7 bowling up to even a confident dog can give them the colly wobbles, so i take my hat off there if anything negative happens, and get grovelling or running!!!)
There is no substitue for training, there is no getting away from that, and as a TRAINER, heaven forbid I would encourage people not to train, or sit on their laurels blaming others for their own dogs shortcomings…. HOWEVER, I do believe that degrees of control can be a little fluid in REAL life without you needing to beat yourself up.
For me, the horrible senario occurs. It shows you that under duress, your dog ignores you. Under duress my HUSBAND ignores me, infact he only has to get the latest copy of Shooting Times for that so to be honest I have a high level of expectation on the ‘being ignored’ front
So you probably take Max home in shame, and do some work, if you are a thinking owner, in the garden, on recall, probably mostly sitting him up static, and recalling him to you…. and every SINGLE time, the bugger comes!! Question: How helpful is that….? Answer: Not terribly helpful as it minics NOTHING about control out and about. So maybe you take him out, on a long line, and do some recalls on that. You work with some treats, or a happy voice, or a favourite toy, and blow me he comes…. nearly every time. And the time he didn’t he gets to the end of the line, and gives up really quickly and comes in. You, as an owner are really TRYING. Probably trying HARDER than any of the dogs who object to your boy running up to them have ever had to work in their LIVES on their dog, because THEY settle for THEIR dogs ‘faults and social hang ups’ where as you appear the social leper if YOU do.
However, you take the plunge one day, and out you go after a few days of long line or extra homework. The first dog you see, YOU spot quite a long way off… and blow me down, IN comes max happily for a bit of cheese and a throw of the tennis ball! happy DAYS…. NOW for me, at this point you probably have MORE control than most sociable lab owners. So you put him on the lead and get past the first ‘bunker’. Owner comments on how well behaved your dog is. You BLOOM! Then, you let him off, reach a corner of the field, go round it and whallop there 40 foot away is someone with a dog …. without a seconds thought WHOOOOSH goes Max…. and ‘Maxxxxxxxxx!!!!!’ goes you again fruitlessly…. off screams the dog and you are back in nightmareville.
THIS is real life. Real dog walking in the heavily populated places we take our dogs. We buy a labrador BECAUSE we want a social creature. One who will love people. you accept he will never bite a burglar, but at least he won’t dream of doing anything other than slobbering on your nephews and nieces when they visit (try and comfort yourself with the fact that Mrs Halo wearing nervous dog owner will probably, as we SPEAK, be shutting Fido away from little johnny the 6 year old nephew because the dog fear growls at him… maybe has the odd snap if he stumbles over and leans on her unexpectedly….).
Do the best possible job you can do on control. If you take walks constantly scanning the horizon, praying, to be honest, noone comes in sight, and feeling almost sick the minute you see a dog with a walker, or a cyclist, or a jogger, you HAVE to do something because life is JUST not meant to be like that, and a trainer needs seeking out. BUT IF you work to th best of your ability on your dog. And without distraction it is reliable. And maybe 5 times out of 10 you can make him pay attention to you, you really are not doing so badly.
You can’t ‘Harry Potter’ magic control over your dog. Work is needed IN the senario you feel out of control in.
But just because you don’t have the remote control dog on wheels some others have, DON’T feel your dog shouldn’t be anywhere near others, or off a lead at all, or given up on…. Aim for control to be on a scale of 1 – 10…. and if you can gain a point every few weeks forward, even if now and then there are setbacks, you are doing pretty damn OK and I grant you permission to open a bottle tonight and toast yourself as a good Mum/Dad
Diana Stevens - April 2012