My first dog was a perfect dog.
Eager to learn, easy to train, no problem behaviour whatsoever. Intelligent, playful, social, with a fantastic recall that at the time I did not think about because it just seemed natural. Then, after 10 years of our living together, I decided to get another dog. But this one was to be even more perfect. Why?
Because I had been learning about positive dog training so much my next dog, I thought, just had to be even better than the first one.
So, the second dog arrived. A lovely Irish Terrier puppy I called Banshee.
She was everything but perfect. She taught me to be a humble dog owner. And I couldn’t understand why all this positive dog training just does’t seem to work with her. And the worst was the recall. It was not THAT bad. I could walk her without the leash most of the time even in the city. But there were situations when she just reacted to a stimulus, a dog or a person, and I couldn’t make her come back to me. As if I did not exist, as if I meant nothing. It made me angry.
But I read that a positive dog trainer cannot show the anger to the dog, so I was praising her with my teeth clenched, I was just untrue to her. When Banshee was 2 y.o. Alexa Capra came to Poland for the first time. I noticed she had a totally different approach to dogs than what I was used to. She told me I had a perfect recall, ‘You just call in wrong moments’, she said. I thought about it and I was confused.
A dog, I thought, should come to me whenever I called. But I felt there was more to it. So I took Banshee and went to meet Alexa in Italy. In communication classes my dog was running from one dog to another, not paying any attention to me. I called her but to no avail. In the evening I sat down at Alexa’s table and asked her to give me an exercise on the recall I could practise with Banshee. But instead of that Alexa just told me I had a conflict with my own dog. I was embarrassed and also puzzled.
How was I supposed to practise the recall without the exercise for the recall?
I came back home and thought about Alexa’s words. I looked closer at my relationship with Banshee. I started learning about dog communication. Not about calming signals but about real communication. And when I began to understand Banshee better, she was trusting me more. The situation was changing. She was becoming more confident with other dogs and people. It took some time but our relationship grew stronger. I understood that the methods of training can lead to a lack of trust and a poor relationship with a dog, no matter whether we use positive methods or traditional ones, based on coercion. Positive methods of training are not enough to ensure a good relationship. What is more important is communication, understanding, trust and safety. If we have all that, the relationship is strong and there is a good bond between the dog and the owner. And then there is a perfect social recall.
When my first dog died I decided to get another one, this time an adult dog from a puppy mill.
Phoebe was deadly scared of everything, mostly of people and other dogs. She was also scared of me. And yet I never walked her on leash and I haven’t had any problems with the recall! I had to work hard to earn her trust, work hard for her to believe she could be safe with me. At all times. From the very first day I was listening to her and reacting to what she communicated. I wanted to show her I understand her. I never practised any exercise on the recall with her and yet it’s enough for me to call her softly and she is immediately by my side. Even when she is rolling in smelly stuff which is kind of her hobby, she is able to stop in an instant and come to me, running.
Because the social recall is not about the exercise and practise but about the relationship with the dog.
Text Paulina Ziolkowska
Photos Paulina Ziolkowska and daniele Robotti
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