The teenage years can be trying in the human. Believe it or not, this life stage can be just as exhausting when it comes to raising dogs. The adolescent period of dog development starts between 12 to 16 weeks and encompasses the next couple of years, depending on the breed. This developmental period officially ends at social maturity between 2 to 3 years of age. The beginning of this time in your dog’s life is marked by increased independence and a decreased ability to learn as quickly and easily as he did earlier on. During this time behavior problems become apparent.
This is also the period of time when most dogs begin to run away. Breed, individual genetics, life learning and sex can affect a dog’s desire to run. We can also inadvertently teach them to run away by chasing them. To the dog, it becomes a big game. No matter the cause, running away is a preventable behavior if you use patience, consistency and proper training.
A Natural Part Of Growing Up
If you brought your dog home as a puppy before 12 weeks of age then you probably experienced the joy of your puppy sticking close and following you no matter where you went. Then, one morning, your puppy was no longer following you but running off in the opposite direction. This is a normal transition into the adolescent period.
When my oldest Rottweiler, Asher, was a puppy, he was always under foot. No matter where I went, it seemed I was constantly tripping on him. Then, one day when he was about 4 months of age, I had the gate across the driveway open as I was loading my car for a road trip. He was right by my side, and then, all of a sudden, he took off running out of the driveway and down the street. Trying to keep from panicking, I called him excitedly as I ran down the sidewalk in the opposite direction with a handful of treats. It was enough to get him to turn around and run back to me. He got rewarded handsomely. It also marked the end of his freedom.
Let The Training Begin!
So how do you prevent this from becoming a problem? If you haven’t yet started, you need to begin training right away. Training your dog to come when called needs to be at the top of your list. If you have begun training, it is time to take it up a notch to the next step. I start by conditioning both my dog’s name and the word “come.” I start with a handful of small, soft treats and say my dog’s name 10 times in a row, offering a treat after each repetition. I might do this several times a day for a couple of days. I want my dog to light up and get excited when he hears his name. I then repeat the process with the cue word “come.”
Now I wait for the dog to look away. I then say his name, and when he turns his head to me, I mark that moment with either a click or a marker word such as “yes.” As soon as he moves toward me, I give him a treat. I then do the same thing with the word “come.” I teach the two words separately. That way, in an emergency, I can put them together for a better response. I build distance gradually, starting in the house and then moving outside on leash. Even in a fenced-in yard I use a long dog leash, about 30 feet long. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. It can even be a rope with a clip tied onto it. This ensures that your dog can’t run off, regardless of where you train.
There are many different activities you can do to teach a recall. The more ways you teach it, the better it becomes.
- Cookie Or Toy Toss: Using a treat or toy your dog dearly loves, toss it out a couple of feet in front of you. Let your dog go and get it. Call your dog using either his name or the word “come.” As soon as he moves toward you, mark it and reward when he gets to you. If you are using toys, it is helpful to have several of the same toy. That way, the moment you mark the correct action you can throw the next toy.
- Run Away From Your Dog: Wait for a moment when your dog is not paying attention to you. Have a toy or treats ready. Call your dog, turn around and run away. Dogs love to chase and will immediately want to join in.
- Call Between Friends And Family Members: Have toys and treats available and take turns calling your dog between you. Soon your dog will be anticipating where to go next. As your dog gets good at it, call him between rooms of the house. This is also a great way to give your dog exercise in bad weather.
What not to do:
Never chase your dog. This only encourages him to run away from you. To him it is a game. Always run away from your dog. Make him chase you instead!
- Do not punish your dog for not coming when called. This only creates a bad association. Think of it this way: If your boss calls you into his office and threatens to fire you, how likely will you want to go into his office the next time he calls you in? If instead he gives you 50 dollars, will that change your response?
- Do not give your dog freedom he is not ready for. Practice makes perfect, and setting your dog up for success is part of that. Asher was on a long line for months after his jaunt down the sidewalk.
- Only when he had a near-perfect track record in all kinds of situations did I allow him more freedom.
Your dog may think he was born to run away, but your patience, consistency, training and management can help your dog learn to stick around.
By: Jennifer Mauger
Featured Image: Via iStock/Thinkstock/snem