Dog Behavior and Training, General, training

Learning to shut up and behave


It’s wrong to call the behavior “unacceptable” so long as it’s not wrong from a dog’s point of view.

Turid Rugaas, one of my personal dog heroes, said that. I've been going back and reading all her articles recently, and then letting them sit on my tongue and sink in, past the sweet buds and into the salty and bitter. Trying to use them as more of a checklist for myself than as advice for others. 

Isn't this line a bit of a kick in the shorts? How many times have you used the word "unacceptable" when it comes to your dog? How many times have you decided that two feet away is acceptable but three feet away was UN? 

The other way Turid put the same concept was to ask if another dog would care about the behavior. Would another dog be offended? If not, why are we thinking the sky is falling?

This, my friends, is very hard to do. 

Think about all the reasons you discipline a dog – sniffing the counters, pulling on the leash, nose in the crotch, feet on the furniture. We use that same word – unacceptable – about all of them. But all of them are completely normal and would never be a cause for concern in a dog family. What THEY label as wrong are coming at them straight on. Hugging. Taking something out of their mouths. Touching their beds or bones. 

All these things we ask them to accept, and in fact get very angry when they don't, but we rarely ask anything of ourselves. We don't even ask ourselves to admit that they may be very troubled by how we ask them to live and behave and grow up.

Turid is the best I know at insisting – gently, quietly – that people look at things from the dog's point of view. WHY is this behavior bothering us so much? WHY must it end? What are the consequences if it doesn't end? Will the world stop spinning? How can we take upon ourselves, as owners, the responsibility for "behaving" when the action from the dog's point of view is normal and right?

Tonight, after reading that, in my continual quest to Become A Fan Of Bramble, I took him outside with me off-leash.

We've been doing this for months now, because I NEED my dogs to have a reliable off-leash recall. So much of what we do with them is outside; we'll routinely drive an hour or more to get to an off-leash walking or hiking area or a beach. A dog who is stuck on a four-foot leash really misses out on a lot of fun and ends up being left behind most of the time because I can't carry a baby, shepherd Tabitha, and hold a leash at the same time. So, for weeks and weeks, I've been trying to get him more reliable off-leash. And yes, we've done all the "right" things, starting with a long line or a recall inside a fence and so on. He's perfect as long as he knows he has a line on or can't get away. The moment he knows he has freedom, GONE.

All lessons take place at 3 AM or so, because there are no cars on the road (or, for that matter, within about a mile) so I don't have wheeled homicide to think about.

Anyway, with Bramble, here's how this always goes:

1) I take him out, feeding him bits of treats or kibble and verbally rewarding him for responding to my "close! close!" command. (I know; weird – it's a command I made up for "stick close to me but not in wrapped heel position.")

2) Fourteen seconds later, he bolts down the lawn.

3) I begin to call him.

4) He runs full-tilt across the road.

5) I get more and more wheedly, higher-pitched, worried.

6) I shake his food bowl or treat bag. Whistle. Call him more. Say bad words in my head.

7) I walk across the road and follow him into the woods, calling and whistling. More bad words in my head, trying to keep my voice light and calm as I call him. 

8) I eventually find him, usually several hundred feet into the woods. When he sees me approach, he flattens submissively to the ground and shows his belly. his eyes flat and scared. I pick him up or put a leash on him, and then we walk back, me continually rewarding him for a nice "close" the whole way home. We get inside and I collapse on the chair and think about what horrible things would happen to him if he just kept on running. 

Last night, as I wrote about yesterday, he came back on his own for the first time. No tracking him down. I did, however, call him constantly, go across the road and shake the treat bag, whistle, walk along the edge of the woods, etc. 

Tonight, I said "Nothing is unacceptable. Nothing is unacceptable. Breathe. Nothing is unacceptable." And I opened the door.

He, as usual, walked out with me and looked for his treats, which I gave to him as we walked. As usual, he booted it across the lawn as soon as we were a few steps away from the house. 

And I sat down in the grass under our garage light. 

And hyperventilated.

But I shut up. 

I heard him run across the road and throw himself into the woods. I didn't move. I looked at baby grass. I poked an ant. 

I picked up the treat bag. Put it down. Picked it up again. Put it down harder to "accidentally" make a shaking noise.

Put the treat bag out of reach to avoid temptation.

Thought about whether the pumpkins were growing. That took about three-quarters of a second and then I was back to straining to hear any noise from the woods. 

I heard a stick break. It sounds like it's in the next zip code. He's GONE! He's TOTALLY GONE. I stood up.

I sat down.

I put my forehead on my knees. 

Bramble jumped on my neck.

I looked up, tried to say something, said "Can you down?" and he flung himself on his back, wiggling his paws at me. Downs and sits and downs again, offers me a high-five, rolls over. Many treats. 

And then all on his own he ran to the door and jumped against it to be let in. 

Tonight was the first time, the FIRST, in all these months that I have felt that little spiderweb of joining with him. The first I have not gotten that fear/sorrow/regressing/shutting in message from him. The first I felt him make a decision to approach and open up and connect, and knew that he was getting a kick out of my pleasure. It was such a tiny little step but so very worth it. 

And it's because I let him run across the road. Of that I am sure. It's the one thing he always wants to do, the one thing I always try to shut down, the point at which I start to yell, the trigger for all the times it's been an arm-wrestling match between him and me. 

I shut up and let him do it, and the difference was enormous.

Now please – I don't want anybody thinking that you should just let your dogs run across roads all the time. I'm certainly not going to start letting him run across – or even approach – the road during the day; I'm not going to start teaching baby puppies to go in the road. What I mean is that when I let go of that UNACCEPTABLE, I made a connection that will, if I am careful and savvy and open to him talking to me, allow me to eventually call him off the road, or away from things that are dangerous, because he feels like I'm on his side and not against him. The fact that it was the road really means nothing; it could have been any issue.

If I am trying to see things from my dog's point of view, ending the use of that word "unacceptable," I will do less punishing and begin to expect more of myself. A dog who jumps up on the counters reminds me that my first job is to put the food up high, and THEN we train no noses on counters. My first job is giving the dog confidence that I am good at screening guests, THEN we work on no crotch-sniffing. My first job is providing enough exercise, THEN we work on not chewing the couch. I behave; now we have a conversation about what living in my pack means. I'm predictable; now we talk about you trusting me enough not to fear-bark all the time. I'm stable; now we figure out how to travel together. 

If I have not behaved first, if I am still seeing That Dog as an obstacle that must be overcome, then all I will do is punish and punish and punish while the gulf between us widens.

I have the frontal cortex; I need to use it to imagine what it is like to be a dog before I can expect the dog to behave like a (polite) human. 

And Bramble? Got a bowl of ice cream inside. And we'll try it again tomorrow.




If this was helpful to you and you'd like to help us rescue and foster dogs, here are Amazon links to the books and tools mentioned in the article – and thank you so much!

– Joanna

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  • Reply Julie July 29, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Here’s to success!

  • Reply Scott July 29, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Excellent point. I find it easy to see the upside of a “misbehavior” from a dog’s POV – he wants me to come inside and stop running around like a lunatic, but he will likely put me in my crate if I go inside and this is FUN – but not necessarily as easy to understand why he wouldn’t find the behavior unacceptable. I have had a lot of success with my dogs by using the “unacceptable” behavior as a reward for stopping it. For instance, if you come when I call the first time, I will let you go back to being a fool before I take you inside.

    BTW, I don’t think “close” is so weird since my own command for the same thing is “with me”.

  • Reply Carla July 29, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    “It’s wrong to call the behavior “unacceptable” so long as it’s not wrong from a dog’s point of view.”

    This statement is so ridiculous, it’s almost laughable.

    “Isn’t this line a bit of a kick in the shorts?” – Yes, in that it’s complete rubbish.

    My primary criticism of the opening quotation is the conflation of explanation and justification. Explaining a dog’s behaviour does not excuse it, justify it or legitimate it. Let me be clear: it does nothing more than explain it. Understanding whether or not something is “wrong” from a dog’s point of view is nothing more than offering an explanation. Can it help you understand why a dog does or does not do something? Yes. If you incorporate that information into training, can it help you to easily and efficiently train your dog? Yes. Will it probably make your interactions with the dog easier and less frustrating? Yes. Does it affect what rules or boundaries you require the dog abide by in order to live a safe, secure and comfortable life in your home? No. And it is at this point for some reason people get confused (not just dog people – academics, researchers, politicians, journalists: this very basic misconception takes place daily on a massive scale). Understanding why a behaviour or action occurred (that is, being able to describe its origins, understand the logic, biology, physiology or psychology behind it and so forth) is not the same as claiming it as morally, socially, culturally, politically, or ethically acceptable/appropriate. These are fundamentally different concepts.

    The sentence quoted above, in less than 20 words, successfully confuses these concepts and falls into the trap of conflating explanation with justification. Let’s break it down:

    “It’s wrong to call the behaviour “unacceptable”

    Here the author alludes to both a moral position and a value judgement: it’s “wrong” (the moral position) to call a behaviour “unacceptable” (a value judgement – construction of a boundary based on value statements). So we are engaging in morally incorrect behaviour if we construct a value judgement (ie – create that boundary) about what’s acceptable and not acceptable for a dog’s behaviour. And when is this the case? When:

    “it’s not wrong from a dog’s point of view”

    Ahhh. There’s the rub. Dog’s can’t make moral judgements, can they? Nothing is wrong or right for a dog, it simply “is.” Then decisions are made, consequences happens, and life moves forward.

    But of course that’s ridiculous. Let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume he means “wrong” not as moral imperative, but in the colloquial sense, like right/wrong is actually good/bad, better/worse, normal/abnormal. So if something is “not “wrong” from a dog’s point of view”, he means to say that something is not bad from a dog’s point of view, or something is not worse from a dog’s point of view.

    Here we fall into the same trap described above: that explanation does not transform magically into justification. And that is precisely what the author is suggesting we do with that sentence. Something that requires justification (the sequential and logical identification of something as acceptable or unacceptable – constructing a boundary), be legitimated by a simple explanation of the dogs own understanding of their behaviour (that the dog doesn’t perceive it as bad). Thus, if a dog thinks something is “right” then we should not call it unacceptable.

    And that’s complete rubbish.

    Now, that’s not what the rest of your post argues for, so it seems odd that you would start off with it as an intro to your post. But that conflation of explanation/justification really sticks in my craw, so I had to bring it up.

    In regards to the rest of the post, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re simply suggesting that accounting for a dog’s normal or natural behaviours, and adjusting ours accordingly, can create a harmonious dog-person interaction. You also argue that we should examine our conceptualization of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behaviours, whose enforcement may be working against creating a true connection with our dog (ie – becoming their “fan”). This is all very reasonable – and an idea described in great detail by Patricia McConnell in “The Other End of the Leash.”

    Here’s where you lose me: you say that, when taking Bramble out, “nothing is unacceptable” and that you “let go of that UNACCEPTABLE.” However you make it very clear in your description of your own response, as well as a few paragraphs down, that that is simply not true. It’s not that going near the road has suddenly become acceptable – it hasn’t – or that you actually let go of what you previously considered unacceptable – you didn’t – you simply stopped trying to enforce those boundaries because you’re hoping that some sort of deeper interaction takes place which eventually leads you to a different, more fruitful route to enforcing that boundary (staying away from the road). Indeed, the only thing that’s changed is the route through which you try to enforce the boundary about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable; the boundary hasn’t changed at all.

    Nor should it – there seems to be this negative connotation that boundaries and the identification of acceptable/unacceptable dog behaviours are bad or wrong (for an example of this, please read the opening quote of your own post). They’re not. They’re ways we, and our dogs, navigate the world successfully, safely, and comfortably. Problems only arise when our boundaries are so unreasonable or unrealistic as to create a huge barrier of miscommunication, frustration and distance between ourselves and our dogs.

    • Reply Beth July 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm

      Carla, I hear where you are coming from. To give an extreme example, it is not unacceptable to a dog to kill the family cat. It is not unacceptable to a small group of young dogs to gang up and kill an older dog, if it’s in poor health. These are normal, healthy activities for a dog yet clearly unacceptable by our own standards. Now, if my dog killed a small fleeing creature, I would UNDERSTAND it in terms of instinct and not pass moral judgement on the dog for doing so. But I go to great lengths in my own home to lay down the law that cat-harassing is, and always will be, absolutely unacceptable.

      I’ll put it in dog terms: for a passing unrelated male dog, it is completely acceptable (within normal dog behavior) to kill a litter of puppies. Yet to the bitch that whelped them, that behavior is totally unacceptable, and if the pups are still nursing she’ll lay down her life to make that point.

      Having said that, I too take value in the rest of the discussion and I know that, personally, I laugh off many behaviors that other people find annoying in their own dogs, within the proper context. Jack was in agility last night and was awful: inattentive, unresponsive, and mulish. It was hot, it was muggy, he did NOT want to work, and instead of being mad at him for being bold, I was thrilled that he offered me up any correct actions at all, because every ear flick and glance told me in no uncertain terms that he was entirely too hot and wanted nothing more than to have a wander, a sniff, and then a lie-down in the shade.

      Understanding our dogs’ behavior is crucial to our relationship with them. The thought processes we use to get to that point will be different for each of us, and what imagery works for one person may be useless to another.

    • Reply Joanna July 30, 2010 at 4:03 am

      I think you’re trying to discuss something about the Platonic ideal of “unacceptable.” I’m trying to discuss something about not screwing up your relationship with your dog.

      There are all kinds of rules that people tell you about your dog. They have to be on the left and not the right. They have to have head up and not head down. They can’t jump up. They can’t jump down. They can’t sniff your crotch. They can’t chase cats. They can’t bark. They can’t bite each other. And on and on and on and on.

      Turid Rugaas says “Why? Why can’t they jump up? Why can’t they sniff? Why can’t they bark?” Why is one way the “right” way to walk and one way the “wrong” way? Aren’t these all boundaries that we, primates and livers in strange rabbit-warrens of the suburbs with no exposure to the real world, place on them because they’re easier for us?

      It’s a conceptual difference that leads to a behavior difference. Because I realize that my anti-barking stance is my own hang-up and not a reaction to the dog being “bad,” I stop reacting with anger and start reacting with the goal of being able to signal the end of barking when my own weird rabbit-warren existence forces it. But when we’re out in the woods, I rejoice in the barking. Walking all the dogs on my left side allows me to keep them safe on MY road, because of MY cars, because of MY decision to live here. It’s not because left is correct and right is bad.

      There was no practical reason to not let Bramble cross the road. There were no cars, no danger, no activity. It was my own attitude that good dogs stay with me and bad dogs run. Why? Why don’t bad dogs stay with you and good dogs run? If we were in the Outback, wouldn’t that be true? My definition of an unacceptable behavior was cultural, not absolute, and in this case it was not only cultural but unjust. Redefining it not as “unacceptable” but as cultural puts me back on his side, even when that means things are uncomfortable for me.

      I’ve read McConnell, of course, and I appreciate some of the stuff she says but it’s somewhat spoiled for me by the fact that she’s very, very high-stress about her own dogs. Everything is either a huge breakthrough or a huge failure and she seems to micromanage them a huge amount. No interactions without close supervision, she stops play all the time, she interrupts interactions because she thinks they might be going wrong. I haven’t seen in her own dogs a good example of letting them just be dogs, and I have a feeling she’d be horrified by the fact that I stand on my deck and watch dogs get into a roaring disagreement that goes on for three minutes and ends with a dog running away screaming eight feet below me and contribute only “Good job, Clue; she WAS being a jerk. Next time don’t look at her like that, Friday.” In The Other End of the Leash she tells a story about how she “once” saw her adult dog discipline a puppy, and “thinks” it’s normally like that, and says that adult dogs discipline with muzzle bites (what? No.). I hugely respect the amount of research she’s done on individual behavior – how to train a trick. That’s wonderful. I am not so sure I’m on board with how she feels about corporate or untrained behavior.

      • Reply Beth July 30, 2010 at 9:10 am

        I’ve read McConnell and don’t get that same impression at all.

      • Reply Carla August 5, 2010 at 7:50 pm

        Wow, super late to the party this time. I seem to meander over to your blog while bored at work, and I haven’t been at work since last Thursday…

        Just a simple point and then I’ll move on: why all the hubbub about acceptability and unacceptability then? Why bother with semantics, when that’s not the point you’re making? Why not say what you mean, rather than dance around with word play about letting go of what’s acceptable and not, when that’s simply not that case? People who read these posts without really thinking (and let’s be honest, that’s about 99% of the internet as we know it) will take what you say at face value, without really thinking about what you mean when you say these things. All you’re trying to get across is that your definition of acceptable/unacceptable is nonsensical to the dog and after acknowledging that, maybe you need to try an alternative method to accomplish whatever your goal may be.

        I realize it’s kind of your shtick to be brash and uncouth, but that’s not really an affective way to get your point across, it’s more a way to annoy people. These posts seem to just preach to the choir more than anything else, and likely facilitate stupidity among those not thinking about what you’re trying to say. But if that’s what you’re hoping to accomplish, than I suppose good on you.

        • Reply K.B. August 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm


        • Reply K.B. August 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm

          Sorry about the last comment – could get the dang thing to work :)

          “I realize it’s kind of your shtick to be brash and uncouth, but that’s not really an affective way to get your point across, it’s more a way to annoy people. These posts seem to just preach to the choir more than anything else, and likely facilitate stupidity among those not thinking about what you’re trying to say. But if that’s what you’re hoping to accomplish, than I suppose good on you.”

          Um, are we reading the same blog here?? I don’t always agree with the opinions expressed here, just as there is probably no one on the face of the earth that any of us would agree with 100% of the time. But here’s the thing – it’s okay to disagree and debate, it’s NOT okay to be a snarky tag-team full of disgruntlement on EVERY SINGLE FARKIN’ POST.

          Wanna argue facts and opinions = Fantastic. The MOMENT you regress into personal comments, though, your credibility gets tossed in the trash along with the poop bags. I think both of you (Beth and Carla) have raised some interesting counterpoints, but I can’t say I look forward to reading any of your comments – you seem to exist here only to disagree. So what’s your point? I’ve read blogs before that I thought were absolute tripe (cough*Terrierman*cough), so I did a wonderful and fantastic thing – I STOPPED READING THEM. It may not be my place to call you out, but so far, everyone else has been way to nice and played along with you, and yet neither of you can concede the fact that anyone else has the right to an opinion other than yours.

          So yeah, please, for the love of dog, if you want anyone to actually listen to any point you have to make, tone it down a bit, kthanx.

  • Reply Savannah July 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    OMG! I just had this same revelation with my Standard Poodle, Flash. I have spent the last two years basically at wits’ end, desperately trying to train a dog that is just a little too energetic, a little too smart for me. There were times when I nearly gave up.

    But then I discovered clicker training. After 18 months of corrections (I tried to reward as much as possible, but it just seemed like SO MUCH punishment!) I have finally discovered a way to repair the damage to my relationship with my sensitive, intelligent dog.

    For the last year, Flash has basically shut down on walks with me. Oh, sure, he heels nicely with few corrections. But he will not take a treat, and he absolutely will NOT look at me when we are on a walk. Big, scary relationship damage there.
    So I took him out last week with a 6 foot leash, a bag of freeze dried liver, and a clicker. No choker, no prong collar, no short “heeling lead.” And we walked. He walked ahead of me, out to the side, he sniffed every little thing, he barked at cats, and he LOOKED AT ME. Right in my eyes. I celebrated. We spent forty minutes outside, and by the end of the walk, he was trotting happily within his six foot boundary, glancing at me to make sure I was still keeping up, and genuinely enjoying his walk for the first time since he was a puppy. I finally realized that it’s not the end of the world if he walks ahead of me. I’m not a dog, and I don’t need to be a pack leader. I just need to be a human working consistently and positively with my dog so both of us can live happily together.

    I’m so glad you posted this, I hope more of us can learn to let go and love the dog inside our dog. It’s a great reminder that some things just aren’t that important. If Flash doesn’t want to be an obedience champion, then I’m not going to force him to be one. All I really need is a happy dog who can work with me, not against me.

  • Reply Beth July 29, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    I just had one of those “what-the-heck” moments, thinking of this post while doing some other things.

    Am I correct, Joanna, that Bramble is your Doxie-something mix? I’m pretty sure I’m right on that.

    “….I NEED my dogs to have a reliable off-leash recall.”

    What would you say to one of your Cardi puppy-buyers who said “I NEED a dog that is quiet while in my apartment all day. While the neighbors are remodeling. And children are screaming up and down the halls.”

    What would you say to a Cardi-puppy buyer who said “I NEED a dog who does not get stimulated by groups of rapidly-moving creatures, and does not want to chase them.”

    I think I know what you would say. I think you’d talk a lot about Cardis, and their history, and why they bark and why they chase.

    So you have a doxie-something-maybe-terrier cross. And you NEED him to have a reliable off-leash recall. Yet everything I’ve ever read about Doxies says that they can never be trusted off-leash, because their prey drive is so high.

    Think of what a Doxie was bred to do, and how he was bred to do it. A herder was bred to work very closely, as a team, with a handler and so they check in often. We can build on that to make them reliable off-leash. A spaniel was bred to work near enough to a person so that they could shoot flushed game, so we can work with that and have a reliable off-leash dog.

    The scent-hounds, the terriers, the sight-hounds are never a sure thing to come back to us. You can be the bestest trainer in the whole-wide world, and it won’t matter if the dog catches a scent.

    Imagine you were a doxie breeder, and one of your puppy-buyers was upset about how hard she was working on off-leash recall, and how little success she was having. What would you tell that puppy-buyer? Maybe something about how if off-leash recall is so important to you, then perhaps this was not the best match.

    “The one precaution is to never leave your dachshund off-leash when doing walks or going off in unfenced area. Because dachshunds were bred to be hunters, when set free, they will immediately zip off and hunt for prey, ignoring your commands. As such, they should always be kept on leash.”

    Sometimes, it’s our expectations that need changing. I prefer to hike with my dogs off-leash as well. Perhaps, though, that will never be in Bramble’s future.

  • Reply K.B. July 30, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Oh dear, I guess I better tell Kip, my schnauzer with a fantastic recall, that since he has a high prey drive, our off-leash walks are over? Poor dog, and he so loves them! I’ll have to break the news gently 😉

    • Reply Beth July 30, 2010 at 6:05 am

      And my friend’s next-door-neighbor has a Border Collie who is calm and mannerly and very well-behaved despite a lack of much exercise or activity. She marvels at such a wonder all the time. The exception does not prove the rule.

      My brother has a Jack Russell who is fairly good off-leash. My aunt has had 3, and one was pretty good but the others are ratters and if you let them loose, they are gone. She lives on acreage, and her current little female will come back grinning, nose bloodied from whatever she did. She does come back, but on the dog’s schedule, not the human’s.

      • Reply rufflyspeaking July 30, 2010 at 6:10 am

        Sure, and I know a Newfoundland that bites people and I know a Border Collie who couldn’t care less about sheep. Anecdotes only get us so far.

        Have any of the JRTs you’ve mentioned been trained? Any effort made to shape a good recall? Have the methods been correct?

      • Reply K.B. July 30, 2010 at 6:35 am

        You might want to possibly spend some time on the on-line terrier groups before you classify them all as “unable to have a recall”, or to classify any that do as mere exceptions. Terriers were bred to *work with humans while off-leash*, not to run madly away and never come back.

        If the human involved wants to spend the time training, then ANY dog can have a recall. The attitude of “oh, it’s such-and-such a breed, so it can’t possibly do THAT!” is, IMO, one of the most detrimental attitudes toward training possible.

        Simply excusing behavior due to innate drives is a lazy cop-out for not training your dog.

        • Reply Beth July 30, 2010 at 9:12 am

          Lazy? I never said they can’t have a recall, just that they may never be totally reliable off-leash. I drivey dog after quarry will tune out the entire world, including you.

  • Reply Joanna July 30, 2010 at 3:18 am

    Both Dachshunds and Jack Russells, which is Bramble’s other half, are supposed to be able to work off-leash. That is, they are supposed to WORK off-leash. So are Pointers and Coonhounds and Bassets and a bunch of other breeds. It would be unreasonable of me to label Bramble, no matter how well I can help him overcome his issues, as a “bad dog” because he won’t do a perfect off-leash heel or because he wants to bolt to go in the woods. It’s not unreasonable of me to train him the way he should be able to work – with a reliable recall because he WANTS to be with me. His issues are not because he’s so happily and joyfully heading off to hunt and I’m yanking him back and yelling at him; his issues are fear and insecurity and lack of bonding.

    I appreciate pet-oriented sites warning people to never let those kinds of dogs off-leash, because all too often people buy dogs and then start screaming at them for doing completely normal doggy things. It would be stupid of me to walk Bramble off-leash through a rabbit farm, which is comparable to what I’ve seen owners do with working dogs. It’s not stupid of me to work toward a situation where I can go to a remote mountain road and expect him to be with me when I get to the top of it.

    My Cardis are born with a beautiful recall, and I’ve never had to train it. You’re exactly right that it works with their brains. But I STILL have very strict rules for owners that they can’t let their dogs off-leash unless they are in a fenced area until they’ve had professional training.

    With Ginny it took about a year before she had the brilliant recall she does now, but even now fear can overcome it. We brought her to the ocean today and she must be on a leash at the beach or she’ll run to the car. The ocean, to her, is a huge dirty pool of horror because she will get wet and sandy and that hideously offends her. With Bramble, no matter how long it takes, the goal is for him to have enough trust that he believes me when I call him, and enough of an expectation of the positive that it will overcome the desire to hunt. Not so I can make him miserable, but so he can work the way he should be able to work, with excursions and recalls.

    If someone told me that they NEED a dog who is quiet all day, I would tell them to not get a dog period. No matter what breed. If someone told me that they loved Cardigans and wanted to own one but were urban and were concerned about the noise, then we’d start talking about options for training and debarking and stimulation and distraction and so on, and I’d lend them Clue for a week so they could see how it worked. If she barked too much for them we’d know the breed wouldn’t work. I’ve never said that you don’t train behaviors. I’ve said that it burns my rump when people get mad at dogs – start calling them bad, or label them as enemies, or kick them – for doing completely normal stuff. You train, but you train with the knowledge that the need to train this particular behavior is your issue, not theirs, so you do it with love and sympathy and positivity, not with the attitude of “stupid dog; now I have to crush you and make you behave.”

    • Reply Beth July 30, 2010 at 6:13 am

      Terriers, while they were trialed by fanciers, primarily “worked” (i.e., did their full-time job) independently. They wandered around farms and caught vermin on their own. They still do to this day; my aunt has “working” Jack Russells on her small hobby-farm, instead of cats (to which she is highly allergic). Ratters, they go out the door and go off on their own as opposed to a gun dog who needs to keep you in sight.

      I grew up with my grandfather’s hunting beagles in the backyard. Back in those days in this part of the country, it seemed half the men had beagles. My grandfather, and most of the other beagle owners, would occasionally come home from a hunting trip sans dogs. They would eventually show up some time later, or someone would call and say they had your beagles. Beagles will do what beagles will do, and a drivey beagle on a scent likely does not even hear you.

      My point was that Bramble is following his instincts by going off into the woods. He is doing what his mismatch of genes tell him he is meant to do. Now, he may be all those things you say as well: fearful and insecure and not bonded. All that may be perfectly true and interfering with his desire to come back. But if he smells a vole in the woods (and I’m sure he does) and he starts following it to ground, even with a perfect recall he may not come back. And off-leash in the woods he may still bolt.

      When we were choosing breeds, the scent hounds were immediately knocked off the list because of their tendency to run off. The terriers were off because we like cats and I didn’t want to take the chance (though there are terriers who are lovely with cats, I’ve still heard plenty of horror stories) and also because of their drive off-leash.

      Your description of Brambles behavior is just very doxie-like. He’s doing things in his own way, that make sense to his own drive. You need your dogs to have a reliable off-leash recall, and it may well be that Bramble never will have one. I know terriers who do, and terriers who don’t, and training is only a small part of the equation.

      • Reply rufflyspeaking July 30, 2010 at 6:27 am may be helpful to you.

        Behavior is motivated. If I create a motivation that is more compelling or more positive (or more negative) than running after a smell or sound, he’ll respond to me and not to the smell or sound. No matter what breed he is. The motivator needs to be much, much higher for a terrier than a Border Collie – unless, of course, you’re calling the BC off sheep, and then your motivator must ramp up dramatically. You CAN do it. Whether people want to work that hard or would rather use a leash is completely up to them. For me, for this dog, it’s worth it to me to figure out his motivators and use a positive one or groups of positive ones to create a good recall.

        • Reply Beth July 30, 2010 at 9:17 am

          I’m well aware of the need to create a higher motivation, but am simply saying that for a dog with a high prey-drive, you may never, ever be able to find a higher motivation for the dog than chasing prey. You’re talking about a dog that’s been bred to go to ground after quarry, that will ignore personal pain to pursue that quarry, and will pursue the quarry in the face of distractions. A piece of steak, or the love of an owner, may never overcome that drive IF the dog is still drivey.

          If you have a terrier for 150 years of pet/show lines that has not been selected for drive, you will likely have an easier time than if you have a terrier from 100 generations of ratters. Each dog is different and with many dogs you can find the key, but with other dogs you never may.

          I am just zeroing in in your “I NEED my dogs to have a reliable recall” because that is focusing on your need, not the dogs, which runs counter to much of the rest of your messaging. Beagles love food and they love rabbits, but a really good hunting beagle won’t go off the rabbit trail if he finds something edible along the way (and those that would do that would not have been bred), so using food to call a beagle off a trail probably won’t work.

          To use your own argument, it’s all about motivation and what if the dog’s highest motivator is tracking quarry? If you can’t top that motivation, then what do you use?

  • Reply Micaela Torregrosa-Mahoney July 30, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    I went through something similar when I first started taking Ellie out in the desert. I needed to learn to *really* trust her, and she needed to know that I did. Of course, here we go again, now in NC! Thanks for the reminder 😉

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