You are on fire!

On this particular day, I am accompanying John on his regular hikes with our dogs.  Rio is dashing from tree to tree. From scent to scent oblivious of the world around her.  I call her. Nada!  I know better than to keep calling her, but I also take notice that this girl needs a refreshing course on recall.

We continue our walk as I am planning in my head the next steps to follow up with her. I have several options.  As the walk progresses her recall does too.  Good, but still not exactly what I want.

Next day I have a couple of my client’s dogs – first timers for board and train.  We all go for an off-leash romp.  I begin to call my client’s dogs just as we leave our property to ensure they are coming to me. 

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Sedona, the younger one comes back to me with the speed of lighting and with a bouncy, joyful trot.  Good girl, Sedona!  Sienna her much older “sister” also makes her way back to me for a tasty bit.  And indeed Ms. Rio has decided that she too can come when called!  I can’t help but chuckle as to what I think is going in her Beagle brain: “I’m not going to let these guys get the good treats, I am rushing in for mine.”  Whatever works for you Rio, but just come when called.

We continue going up on the steep hill and once again I call all dogs, inviting mine to take a “U-turn” and the others by name.  Indeed, all dogs are now next to me taking their turn to eat their treats.

Go play!  I tell them, as I now can confirm my suspicion that all it took was some healthy competition for resources to get this girl on fire!  

Dogs are constantly competing for resources; it is the way of nature – evolution. The take-home message as I see it, is not to pit one dog against the other crudely, but instead to be mindful of what the dog or dogs might want at a given moment and use that as a consequence for behavior.

Yes, it is true like in the case with Rio, sometimes circumstances or the environment itself will launch competition full force as it did with Rio and my client’s dogs. And there is nothing wrong in using this to work on some need recall, etc.  

Consider this:  One of the most salient traits that separates excellent dog trainers from “so-so” trainers and average dog owner is the ability that excellent trainers have in capitalizing in the use of consequences for behavior. After all folks, it is not the cue (or command) that drives behavior it is consequences for behavior that drives this.

Our ability to recognized the gazillion reinforcers at our disposals and our correct and timely use of them will up our training game. And as the laws of learning point out… whatever behavior gets reinforced will become the norm.  Nice!

Rio continued to enjoy her walk just like the previous days, but today, she was a girl on fire, claiming tasty pieces of duck and proceeding to run like the wind away from me and in search of new smells.  Sprinting finally at the end of our walk down the ridge to the familiar path that bringing us home.