I completed a lesson with a new Home Dog Training client in Suwanee last week, had just set my GPS for “Home”, and had started to drive down the street. About two blocks away from my client’s home, I observed two people running down the tree lined, residential street flailing their hands in the direction of “something” ahead of them.
Although I couldn’t initially see what that “something” was, it became obvious as I drove closer. Ahead of these two, hapless souls, I observed an elusive Irish Water Spaniel freely running down the street. The dog appeared to be having the time of his life. The faster the couple ran after him and the more excited and animated they became, the more the Irish Water Spaniel would run ahead and evade their attempts to catch him.
It was obvious that he understood that they were running after him and wanted to catch him. Their problem was that the dog had decided he wasn’t ready to be caught. I could have pulled over and watched “the show” of man vs dog for the next forty-five minutes, but I was feeling charitable that day. I decided to lend them a hand.
They did not understand that their exact actions were the impetus that was encouraging their dog to protract his actions of “run and elude”. I tell all my clients that dogs naturally focus on dominance and submission. It is very important to them to establish who is the leader and who is the follower. This is part of their nature and is a critical part of their social structure.
One of the ways that they enhance this instinct is to repetitively practice “social structure games”. “Follow-the-leader” is probably the most common leader-follower games that all dogs learn when they are puppies. The game begins by establishing a leader. For the rest of the game, everyone else must follow and obey the leader.
Unbeknownst to them and through their direct actions, the two, unfortunate dog owners have become “the followers” in their spaniel’s game. The longer they run after their dog, the more they establish their role as “the followers”. This naturally builds up their dog’s role in the game as “the leader”.
They are encouraging the game to continue through their adrenalized activity of chasing their dog, loud yelling, and waving their hands. Under these conditions, they will never catch their dog. “The game” will finally end and they will only be able to retrieve their dog when he finally gets bored and wants to go home. Hint: That will be in about forty-five to sixty minutes.
My goal in intervening and helping them out was to redirect their dog away from “the game” and introduce a scenario that will allow them to “take charge of the playing field”. This is the only way that they will be able to retrieve him at this point. Here is what I did:
- I calmly drove up to the running pair of “exacerbated dog owners”, told them that I was a professional dog trainer, and offered my services (gratis). It appeared that they were making no progress with their “current game plan” and I wanted to suggest a new approach.
- I immediately instructed them to stop running after their dog. Instead, they needed to closely and calmly “follow him”. On top of that, they shouldn’t direct their walk directly towards him. Instead, they should “meander in his general direction”. This means that they should be walking towards him, but aim to his left and then his right. Sometimes they should even walk at a ninety-degree angle from him.
- The next thing I told them to do was for one of them to get in the car with me. I assured them that I was “not a pervert”, but wanted to create “a new angle of attack” in order to retrieve their dog. I told them that we were going to drive down the next street over and come out in front of him farther down the road. They thought that was a good idea.
- The husband jumped in the car and we calmly made the turn, drove down the adjacent road, and proceeded to “cut their Irish Water Spaniel off at the pass”. I told the wife to continue her meandering approach towards their dog down the road. She will now be passively guiding the dog down the road as we “set up our trap” ahead.
- Once we turned back on the original street, we saw that we had successfully positioned ourselves ahead of their dog with the wife slowly approaching from the rear. I then asked the husband to calmly get out of the car, open my car’s back door, get down low, clap his hands, and call his dog in a high and inviting tone. I also handed him some doggie goodies as an additional incentive. (Remember, I am a dog trainer, so I always have treats.)
- This got his dog’s attention and provided the dog with a new point of focus. His beckoning and familiar presence changed the situational dynamic of the dog being in charge to them providing him with a warm, welcoming, and safe environment. I also took a “slight gamble” with this approach because I had assumed that their dog, like most dogs, loved car rides.
- Through “the luck of the Irish”, I guessed correctly. Their dog saw the husband as a strong and credible leader providing him with a “safe haven”. Their Spaniel ran towards him and jumped into the back of my car. We closed the door.
In summary, the first thing we did was disengage in the direct “follow-the-leader” game between the dog and the dog owners. We did this by having them stop chasing after him to calmly and nonchalantly following him. This solved his running away, but he was still slowly moving off down the street. The importance of this action was to decrease the dog’s adrenaline level and set the scene to allow the dog’s owners to regain his respectful and calm focus.
Slowing the process allowed us to place a new target of opportunity in the dog’s path. This “target of opportunity” allowed us to change the situational dynamics and gave us the opportunity to gain his focus. My car’s open rear door created a positive suggestion of “fun car ride” and the husband’s visual position right next to the door provided the needed “security” for the car. The dog simply responded to “something better to do”.
I have used this technique many times with great success. Sometimes you may not have another person with a car at your disposal the moment your dog gets out and runs down the street. In this case, I would like to offer a “Plan C”. As you are following your dog down the street, look for a neighbor in their front yard or sitting on their front porch.
Ask them to get down low, become warmly excited, and call your dog’s name. If they have a goodie, wave that so that your dog can see it. Many times, your dog will run right up to them. This is based on the same principle as the car ride except the distraction you are using is different. You are also assuming that your dog likes your neighbor.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.