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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Will My Dog Still Run Away?

QUESTION: Our biggest concern with our female is that she runs and does not come when called. If we would go after her, she keeps running. On New Year's Day I spent 45 minutes corraling her because she got into the grounds of the gas plant by our house. We have put up a fence and she can jump it. At this point, she can only be outside if I am and it has to be on a leash(which she is awful at). I will let her off leash while we do our 2 mile walk and hope she comes back. She will come back on her own terms, but will bribe her as a last resort if I have to be somewhere. My husband is very skeptical and believes the only way to fix the problem is an underground fence. What is your advice on the situation, and do you feel that can be corrected at your facility? Thanks so much! ANSWER: There are three basic components of a dog's education that need to be met. If any of them are not addressed properly, the dog is likely to misbehave in the eyes of the owner. Without Management, Socialization and Training a dog just cannot succeed at being the best it can be. All of those components are the ultimate responsibility of the owner. Management is at the very core of a dog's existence. If a puppy is granted too much freedom when it is young, it can become neurotic, anxious and/or completely unruly. The more freedom a young dog has the worse it can get. Unfortunately, some people believe that a dog needs to be outside running around and what it really needs is to be a valued, self-restrained member of a well balanced pack (including other dogs in the family and the humans). Using a crate to housebreak a puppy, providing proper confinement to reduce a young dog's desire to explore the world with paws and teeth, proper nutrition, age and breed appropriate exercise are all aspects of good management. The worst management, in my opinion, is to chain a dog outdoors 24/7. The next worst is to allow it to roam freely without supervision, especially when it is young and can get into trouble and form potentially life-long bad habits of hunting or chasing prey. Socialization is what many people really want when the contact us as dog "trainers". Socialization is a dog's understanding of her position in a pack. Dogs must consider themselves the lowest ranking in the family, even if there are young children or very senior adults who cannot really establish, for themselves, their higher rank. In those cases, the competent adults must teach the dog about her position relative to the others. A social dog doesn't jump up on people, run through their legs, bowl them over, growl or resist when told to yield or move (off furniture or just their position on the floor). A social dog has respect and reverence for her owner. Dogs of a breed that were designed to perform work for/with humans (such as Goldens) that are properly social want to work for and be integrally a part of their humans. Properly social dogs "come when called" because it is the nature of dogs to do such to higher ranking members of their pack. I see it every day when I let my own dogs outside. The younger, lower ranking pups and dogs always go to and greet with great respect the higher ranking dogs. The higher ranking dogs could care less about and often ignore or even scold the lower ranking dogs. So, if you want your dog to come to you, it must become social (that doesn't mean happy and friendly - it means respectful of its position in the pack). Training, which is simply having the dog obey commands at a very high standard (as in I say sit the dog sits the first time and willingly), is a piece of cake with a well managed, social dog. It is nearly impossible with a poorly managed and/or anti-social dog. It's like an employee that doesn't believe he should report to his boss. He might do the work sometimes, but often, if pushed, he will simply refuse. He has no respect. Intelligent, typically compliant breeds (like Goldens) can trick their owners into believing they are "trained" because they quickly learn routines and will do what they are told "most" of the time. But, if the do not feel like it, they simply won't do it. These dogs are not being malicious. They simply are anti-social and have no respect for authority. A dog is not going to Come When Called to someone who it doesn't respect. How do you gain a dog's respect? That's what we do for a living. First, we manage the dog so that it doesn't have to be responsible for determining all the threats in the world (which could be a leaf blowing by the window in the dog's mind) so that it can relax and just be a dog. Then, we teach it manners like "do not invade my personal space", "do not jump on me", "do not bark or whine" etc.... which is, in essence, socialization. Once the dog is social, we can teach it anything because it respects us and wants to work for us. What does all this mean? First, there is no point in your spending lots of money to get your dogs trained if you plan to take them home, open the car door and allow them to do as their please. The first few weeks after training, you will want to reinforce every word that you speak to them so that they learn to believe in your authority. You will practice that at your Owner Education Session with our coaching. But, your dogs will assume that the rules are the same at home as they were before you brought them here. So, you need to practice what we have taught you and your dogs when you get home. The most important rule in establishing yourself as a competent and worthy leader for your dog is, "If you say it, Make it happen". So, if you tell the dog to sit, you need to reinforce it. Since they will have been socialized and trained while here, they will know HOW to do these things, but you will need to let them know that you have changed, too! Second, to create "self restraint", as in the dog doesn't act out because she knows better - she needs to know what your rules are. She needs to know that when you say come, you are going to expect that. If she balks, you need to be able to back up your expectation. So, when you get home you will need to practice all that you learned in many environments. If the dog was most likely to blow you off in the front yard, you need to work with her on her basic commands at a very high level in the front yard. Then, she will believe you "own" her in the front yard. If she blew you off near the pond, you need to practice your leadership by the pond. It's not a lot - maybe 10 - 15 minutes as many days a week as you can do for the first few weeks back at home. Believe it or not, by expecting her to "down and stay" no matter what the distraction (which is what we train the dogs to do), she will be more willing to "come when called". Why? Because she believes in you and your authority. She thinks your leadership is worthy of following. If you get angry, frustrated, disappointed when you call her to you, she will never come. Would you? Would you go to your boss's office if you were pretty certain he was going to give you a tongue lashing, or if you thought he was disappointed in you? A Golden Retriever should ACHE to come to you. They are designed to work for their people. They are one of the most people oriented breeds out there. Somehow, and I am not saying it happened intentionally, your dog was taught to run from you because she found coming back or some other aspect of the experience unacceptable or worrisome. If, at the Owner Education Session I cannot teach you how to behave appropriately when calling your dog, there is the risk that she won't want to come to you. But, that's not been my experience. I'm not worried that we won't be able to teach your dogs to come when called in the presence of distractions. But, we cannot control how people behave once they leave here. Bribery, as you have figured out, is not reliable and lets the dog know how weak you are. So, we won't recommend that approach! Now.... on a final note about management..... I believe in a boundary confinement system for dogs (I prefer a solid fence, but an electronic fence is better than nothing - and they make models that do not require any underground wires). This is not because I cannot teach a dog to come when called. But, it is for the dog's safety. I live on 50 acres and the first thing I did when we moved here was put up a fence for my dogs. I don't want stray dogs coming onto my property. I don't want raccoons or other wild animals bringing distemper or rabies onto my property where my dogs exist. I don't want my dogs to think they can go up to the barn and stare at my sheep (or worse, my pups to learn to chase livestock before I begin their formal herding training). I want to let my dogs out and work in my office and not have to be watching them out the window. I don't have a fence because I cannot call my dogs. I have a fence because it gives me great peace of mind and I think it is appropriate management for dogs. Your neighbor can not blame your dogs for chasing his horses or killing his ducks if you have a fence and you know where your dogs are at all time. So, regardless of how well your dogs are trained, I still would recommend a fencing system. And, even if you get a fencing system, your dogs won't come when called whether inside the fence or outside the fence if they are not properly socialized and trained. By the way, if you fix your relationship with your fence-jumper (through proper socialization and training) you will probably successfully teach your dog not to jump your current fence if you were to just drape the "underground" wire on the ground along the perimeter of your current fence for a couple of weeks (using the collar, of course). You won't need to burry it, and will probably be able to take it back up again when it's time to mow the lawn in spring. But, if she has no interest in hanging around because she doesn't have a solid relationship with you, she will continue to want to jump the fence (and then I would suggest that she will need to wear the collar for the rest of her life). Dogs that run from home (if even to chase deer and come back home again) are lacking something vital - a reason to stay home with their pack. We give dogs that reason by making them valued members of our family, managing them indoors rather than leaving them outside for hours on end, and expecting high standards for their behavior- which makes them feel valued and integral to the needs of the pack. © 2009 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.