If you own a dog that makes a bid for freedom every time you open the front door, that likes to escape from the garden or that is apt to run off on occasions when you are out on walks, this can be both frightening and worrying for the owner. It is also one of the hardest canine behavioural problems to deal with.
Understandably, it is important to establish a sense of order and correct behaviour norms in your dog, and not inadvertently offer them a reward for this bad behaviour, but this can be very difficult to achieve without making the problem worse. If you have been out looking for your dog for ages or frantically calling to them while they wilfully ignore you, it is understandable that when they do come back, you will be frustrated, annoyed and unhappy with them. However, telling off or punishing your dog upon their return is totally counter-productive, as your dog will associate their return with the telling off, and not the initial act of running away. This then reinforces in their minds that the coming back part of the activity is the problem, and will make it even harder to recall your dog after a certain point.
In order to deal with the problem, it is important to teach your dog the distinction between discipline and good training, versus punishment, and also important that you as the handler understand the difference between these two things, and respond accordingly.
In this article, we will look at how to train and provide discipline to a dog that is apt to run off, without turning it into a punishment or chastisement once they return. Read on to learn more!
As mentioned, it is important that both you and your dog understand the difference between discipline and punishment, and how to utilise both of these things.
Discipline involves teaching your dog about correct behaviours, rewarding for compliance, and offering correction for bad behaviour or ignoring you. This is something that forms an ongoing part of training, and should be utilised at all times when working with your dog, not just when you are dealing with a runaway!
Punishment involves telling your dog off or chastising them, letting them know that they have done something wrong rather than offering them correction. Punishment is something that should not be commonly utilised, and particularly dealing with a dog that runs off, you should be working on your dog’s discipline and training and not punishment.
Before you start working with your dog and training and correcting them using disciplinary principles, it is important that both you and your dog are in the right frame of mind to begin!
When you first head out on a walk is not the ideal time to do this, as your dog will have bags of energy and not be as amenable to listening to you.
Walk your dog out on the lead to prevent them taking off on you, and use the walk to both let them burn off some of their energy, and to get them thinking and responding to you with corrections when your dog pulls the lead or is otherwise unruly.
This helps to put your dog in the right frame of mind for a training session, and reduces the chances of them taking off due to excessive energy levels as soon as they are let off the lead.
If your dog is apt to take off, picking the right place to train and discipline them is vital. You will need to find an open area large enough that you can judge your dog’s responses and propensity to respond to you (or not) but one that is ultimately enclosed so that you are not going to lose your dog if they make a bid for freedom.
It is important to teach your dog the recall command until it is firmly established in their minds, and associated with good things so that they respond to it instinctively, even if their attention is elsewhere. Keep your recall command to one very clear and distinctive command, such as “come.”
Work with your dog within your enclosed space, letting them off the lead and using the recall command regularly. When your dog looks at you or makes moves to return, encourage them using a positive tone of voice and open body language, and when they do come back to you (however many attempts this takes) give them a treat and lots of praise.
Keep repeating this procedure several times, and work on it every day. Even if your dog is ignoring you or pretending not to hear you, do not allow stress or annoyance to get the better of you; it is important that your dog always associates recall with positive things, even if they do not at first respond the first time.
Once you can get your dog to return to you within your set enclosed environment reliably, it is time to take things further afield. Begin with utilising another enclosed area in a different place and work on the same skills, and then pick spots with more stimulus, such as other dogs or people or whatever else commonly serves as a distraction for your dog.
When your dog is reliably responsive every time, you can start thinking about going through the same procedure in open spaces, and gradually working up to allowing your dog off the lead due to their newly learned recall skills in most situations that they will face.