This is an expanded version of a piece that ran in Northern Virginia Today, Fall 2018
Every morning when the Smiths needed to get out of the house, something was making them late. His name was Sparky.
Sparky was a young dog the Smith had not owned long. Each morning as the Smiths tried to get kids to school/daycare and then the adults off to work, Sparky refused to come inside so the humans could leave. Obviously, the Smiths needed this fixed, so they sought training advice. Even with “training,” Sparky became increasingly difficult to get inside. Finally after working with other trainers and things getting worse, I was contacted. During my initial consult, this is what I discovered.
(1) Each morning Sparky was put outside as the chaos of getting people ready for work, school and daycare began. Just before humans dashed out, Sparky was rushed inside and immediately crated. Coming inside meant boring things. This was why Sparky initially began refusing to come inside during the morning routine.
(2) Sparky did not really understand his name. The Smiths assumed when Sparky did not respond that he was being defiant. This assumption led to them becoming frustrated and wanting to stop this defiance. If Sparky did not know he was supposed to respond to his name, how could he learn to come when called? Not only that, the Smiths called him in a frantic and not pleasant manner. Dogs try to avoid things like that are scary and not fun. Sparky was not defiant, he was avoiding a negative and he was confused.
(3) The early training advice they were given was outdated and not science-based. It included leash corrections when Sparky did not respond to “come.“ Various levels of pain and dragging Sparky through the door were recommended. This would continue until Sparky figured out when he came inside when called, the yanking would stop. When Sparky was not on leash there was nothing to force him inside, so he ran to the back corner of the yard and cowered. Why? The word “come” for Sparky meant bad things would happen. When not leashed, Sparky could avoid the bad things by running.
My game plan was: enrich the inside of the house so Sparky would find it as fun as outside; rebuild the relationship between dog and humans; teach Sparky coming when called was a good thing; address the hectic morning routine that was overwhelming Sparky.
I used food and different food releasing toys, indoor appropriate activities and such to make inside as fun as outside. We worked on name games and bonding exercises. The more Sparky wanted to be inside and with his humans, the easier it would be to change the situation the Smiths were in. You see, outside Sparky could chase fuzzy tree rats, hunt bugs, dig, the kids played with him there and left their toys outside which were great fun. Inside it was all “Quiet dog! Go lie down!” or Sparky was shoved in his crate and humans raced out the door. Why SHOULD Sparky want to be inside?
The Smiths were gaining a better understanding of what Sparky needed as a dog, how their tone and actions were what led to how Sparky behaved.Next I taught them how to make coming in the door an awesomely good thing. Since the word “come” meant bad things would follow, it was easier to train a totally new word than risk the chance Sparky would remember the pain and corrections with “Come” and suddenly refuse to respond.
Finally, I tweaked the morning routine. Sparky would not be brought inside and immediately crated. This, combined with the other work, would help change Sparky’s emotions towards coming inside. Once inside there were fun things to do and some relaxing. Then into his crate with some food releasing toys.
What is the takeaway from this? Dogs are not defiant. They respond to their environment. What we do with them increases or decreases the chance of what we need for various behaviors. Sparky was simply a dog who responded to what was going on around him. Sparky was confused and afraid.