Although, as a veterinary professional, I should be a more staunch advocate of animal behavior, I have to admit that I have succumbed to its frustrations when it comes to my own animals. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE studying animal behavior and I think it’s an incredible field that can help solve a lot of pet problems without having to even open the medicine cabinet. However, I do get impatient with training (as I’m sure the majority of people do). It can be immensely frustrating trying to train an animal to do a new behavior, and here is where I feel I can really connect to my future clients—I get it! I really really do! None of my pets are what you might call “trained.” But, when you think about it, truly, we all, eventually, successfully teach our animals things—think potty training, walking on a leash, etc. If you’re like me, and need just the basics (which are, indeed, important), here is one “behavior” I think every pet, especially dogs, should know how to do:
Recall–this is when your pet comes to you when you call its name or use some other signal to get them to do this (like, saying “come” or waving your hand toward yourself). I cannot stress enough how important, and frustrating, this behavior is!!! Important, because, as I can attest, sometimes dogs slip out of harnesses like my puppy (just four months old) did last week. Sometimes, this happens next to a road or some other dangerous area and it’s all you can do not to shriek your dog’s name in hopes they have the smarts enough to watch for cars. Trust me, I know this feeling all too well. There are lots of things you can do to teach recall. Starting out, you might consider just practicing at home, in your yard, or even your living room. Start by calling your dog back from small distances, and see if they really even know what their name means, or if they think it’s just another silly sound you make.
Then, up the ante. There are long leads (basically extra long leashes) that you can use to teach this behavior while still keeping the safety of having your dog on a leash. Finally transition to off-leash somewhere you feel safe and feel that your pet is safe too. Also, remember to practice in your most panicked voice, because the times you may need to use recall are sometimes (like my situation) quite scary, and it can be tough to keep your voice calm. Even this minor change might make it tough for your pet to understand you. Teaching this simple behavior not only helps when you need your dog back at your side but also in situations where there may be a danger to your pet and you can help to move them out of harm’s way. It is always important to practice, because distractions abound, and your pet may not respond the same way in every situation. So, if you practice nothing else, practice recall! You won’t regret this simple trick when it’s your puppy running off leash toward the road (still reeling from that myself)!