View from the castle

OK, well I don’t actually live in Windsor castle, but close enough to see it out of my upstairs window!

Windsor is a beautiful place to live – not only are we home to the Queen of England and her famous Corgis (my claim to fame was rescuing one from the middle of the road and returning it to the gate keeper, who was less than complimentary about it!) – we also have plenty of green fields, open parkland and woodland – nearly all of which is open to lucky British dogs owners to walk their dogs on.

Of course, this idyllic environment also brings its own training challenges. The woodland is the home of free-roaming deer, squirrels and other small furries. The open parkland also happens to be where the local polo clubs exercise their horses (plenty of scope for unruly puppies to engage in chasing and horse poo eating as a double-whammy), and the fields are often unfenced, with roads running alongside or livestock temptingly close.

Owner expectations in the UK are that their dogs should be able to enjoy all these areas off-lead – and indeed, the joy of seeing my dogs run unfettered in the cool, leafy woods only minutes from my home is one of the highlights of my day. In these areas, we are lucky enough to catch glimpses of red deer and muntjacks almost every day – lovely for humans and unfortunately, even lovelier for dogs who would like to chase after them with wild abandon.

This means that while all aspects of training are important, a good recall and the ability to stop the dog or prevent it from chasing are way up on the list of training priorities in my area! Indeed, as the law here stands, an owner could be prosecuted for allowing their dog to chase a wild animal (and in areas owned by the royal family, who knows, the penalty could be even higher: off with his head??)

Of course, chasing is such a basic, self-rewarding behaviour that it’s a wonder not all dogs do it at every chance they get. Dogs love running, they adore following scent, and they get high on the adrenalin rush of a high speed pursuit.

Thankfully, most of our dogs learn to chase appropriate items, at least most of the time. Toys, games and retrieves all help to channel this natural behaviour and help to give our dogs outlets for their need to express this most basic of drives. However, if you live in an area heavily populated by other, more enticing prey – whether these be animal, human or machine - it may be that you have to take steps to control chasing in a way that others never have to: and this may mean the use of that basic piece of equipment – the lead!

There are probably as many ways to train your dog to avoid chasing as there are reasons why dogs chase. Emergency stops, ‘leave’ at a distance, environmentally cued recalls, instant downs.. the list goes on and on. Which one you choose to work on – or which combination – will depend on your time, patience and level of skill, as well as your dog’s reactions to training and his or her motivation. However, basic management is often a far better and more reliable start to training than attempting to follow the dubious advice of the TV programme you watched the night before /your neighbour/the book you just bought which seemed to suggest an easy ‘15 minute fix’ using an aversive method. Life most things in life, simplicity – and on-going time and effort - is often the key!

So, what will you choose….

Teach your dog to come back when he’s called – as an instant reaction
Teaching your dog a really reliable recall is pretty essential for all off-lead exercise. However, training the recall with distractions needs to be built up over time and distance. Using a whistle for recall training can help here, as can using high level rewards for difficult situations. Building up distractions can be a challenge on your own – and this is where a good trainer can make all the difference in increasing responses and in creating consequences for the dog is he doesn’t return when you call. These consequences need not be punishing – but they do need to be effective, such as being put on the lead and marched away from the owner or being held on lead while the owner disappears.

Teach your dog to sit at a distance
Do you remember your times tables? Well, if like me you remember some of them but not others, you will understand how some multiples come to mind instantaneously, while others need a bit more calculation. The ‘instant’ responses may not be because they are easy to work out, but rather that you recall them without thought – they come to you purely from habit. Teaching your dog to sit at a distance needs to be this instantaneous. The training needs to be so exact that he doesn’t even think when he hears the word sit – indeed his bottom is already on the floor by the time he’s truly registered what you’ve said. For many dogs, training an instant sit is often easier than an immediate recall (which, after all, involves stopping, turning and then coming back, rather than a single action,) which makes it great for use in an emergency. For most dogs, teaching a sit at a distance needs some initial work. They may already know the word sit, but they are used to performing the action close-up. Practising with the dog behind a baby gate with you at a distance can be a good way of getting this started. This can then be progressed to tethering the dog at a short distance outside – as soon as he sits, you can click and go back to him with a food treat or favourite toy. Ian’s tips on the site are also fab.

Teach your dog to look at you when cued by the ‘prey’ arriving
Essentially, this method relies on the dog making a decision about what’s rewarding and what’s not. It takes patience and good timing. With the dog on lead, the handler simply stands still and waits for eye contact and attention to be refocused on them. Clearly, this may take some time with dogs that have a high prey drive. However, as soon as the dog turns and gives their handler eye contact, the handler clicks and then a whole stream of fantastic things occur – treats, dinner, play – you name it! Over time, it’s possible to condition the dog to looking at you when the object of his chase affection appears – in other words, the very appearance of a small furry animal will cause him to turn and look at you.

Teach your dog a chase recall
Often used in conjunction with recall training and cue training, teaching your dog that the appearance of a prey animal cues a chase game with a favourite toy can be one of the most effective ways of re-directing chasing. In fact, this method has been so effective with one of my dogs that on trying to film her progress in the middle of a field of wild rabbits, she wouldn’t even look at them! This method relies heavily on forming a ‘healthy addiction’ to a favourite toy – a ball on a rope, or Frisbee, for example. This gets produced on walks and is used as a direct reward for turning attention away from even the thought of chasing inappropriate things. This method may take time and persistence, but can work like a dream.

Check out www.dogtrain.co.uk for more ideas and free fact sheets.