Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Whippet vs The Border Collie - Recalls

Teaching Pax to have a reliable recall does not come as naturally as it does for training the border collies. He is not bred to want to be with me, so I have to convince him that its worth his while to come to me when I call him. The border collies prefer to be next to me (usually staring at me) unless there is something else really exciting going on.

For the border collies I need to work on their recall during really really distracting situations and making myself only say "Indy, here" ONCE. Not twice. I have trouble with this.

I have done all of the standard things to train Pax a recall...rewarding him every time he comes to me on his own and then send him to go play. Literally when ever he approaches me I reward him. We have not really gotten that far with this. If he is slightly distracted he does not recall. He also does not bring the ball back when playing fetch unless the other dogs are not around because he would rather zoom around and get them to chase him.

When I went to learn about lure coursing with a local whippet person, we talked about how important it is to have a reliable recall for whippets. You have to gather your dog after he gets the lure and you do not want to be a guy that is calling and chasing his dog for 5 minutes. On the day I took Pax for his first practice it was cold outside and Pax was determined to find a way inside the house. He totally ignored me. It was quite embarrassing.

Here is some information he gave me about whippets in general.......

"Whippets were developed as race dogs, which in terms of domestication goes, is a bit further along in the evolution towards wild dogs, as in wolves. Domestication for various jobs has been sort of along the lines of stunting or stopping the growth from puppy wolf-type to adult wolf-type behaviors. If you want a dog breed to herd, then you allow the chase and pursuit instinct to develop, but stop short of the killing of the prey. If you want a dog breed to point, you allow that instinct to develop only as far as the stalking and stop it short of the pursuit, catch and kill, and so on. Most dog jobs are variations of natural instinctive wild dog behaviors that have been stunted or halted at some particular point, and then modified to suit the specific task at hand. Bird dogs, retrievers, are often the most puppy like as they halt their development much shorter of the end, adult hunter killer version, while at the other end, the outright hunting, coursing and killing breeds develop much further into that adult version of the wild dog.

Whippets were developed to be racers, which is an outright pursuit and kill of the prey object, be it a plastic bag, a handkerchief (of old days), or live, wild game like rabbits, so they have, in a way, matured further along that whole canine development scale. Because of that, they tend to be less puppy-like in their mentality, more independent, and less reliant on others for approval and direction. In dog show language, AKC breed description terminology, it comes out as things like “aloof, independent, aristocratic” and so on. Those characterizations are more human characterizations, but in the dog world, they are indications of an animal much less dependent on humans, and more in tune with their wild dog nature. That makes them a bit less eager to please us, and hat makes them a bit harder to train. But understanding that is how they are, it gives the opportunity to work with them in ways that will get the best possible results.

Since whippets are borderline take us or leave us, they are not constant followers; they will follow if we are a strong leader, but will lead if we are weak leaders, or prone to follow them. This is never more evident than when we try to catch them. If we display a behavior that can be interpreted as a follow, there is a good chance that they will in turn choose to lead. In other words, if you go after them, they will go the other way, in an effort to lead you, the follower. This can go on all day. On the other hand, if you establish yourself as the clear and knowledgeable leader, they will more often than not agree to follow. But being that leader does require some clear signals that you are in fact leading them somewhere, that you are headed somewhere, and that you are also their superior. How one goes about that kind of depends on the age of the dog, and will get harder and harder as they mature. So it’s important to establish it early on.

The way we do it is as pups, baby pups. In the yard, we let them play, we let them play with one another, we let them play with us. But hen, we always try to create situations where they need to follow us. As puppies, they will always follow the mother, as she is their source of food and security. We become that surrogate mother, of course, and so where we go they will follow. Knowing that transference, we use it often to establish the follow behavior in the pups. While playing, I will get up, and start walking away from them. They all notice, and eagerly follow. Sit down and they swarm over me. Do that numerous times during a play session and they get the idea that I am the parent needing to be followed. I am the one who knows where we should be, what we should be doing, and so on. I am the leader, and they are the followers.

As that follow the leader training is going on, and as they grow, we introduce toys into the mix. A small stuffed toy, or a small ball at first, and when tossed they will normally bring it back just because that follow the leader behavior has been instilled. If they do no bring it back, then I start to walk away. That triggers their follow instinct once again, and they then follow, hopefully brining the toy along with them. If, instead, I try to go get them, they run away in play, which is their undeveloped instinct trying to test who is leader and who is follower. What seems like fun is in actuality training and development that occurs naturally in the developing dog brain, and if we are unaware of it we can instill the wrong impressions in their little minds. Chasing a playing puppy will tend to teach it that it is the leader and you, and other people, are the followers. It starts pretty early, the training process and their ultimate willingness to come back or run away.

Pax, after catching the lure the first time, decide to go looking for whatever, more lures, more toys, leaves, whatever he found interesting. As you called after him, and then followed after him to catch him, he moved away faster to keep that lead. That scenario right there established a leader and follower relationship, and repeating that again and again will not result in a different outcome. It will, instead, set a pattern that will last probably forever. That is how many people have trained their whippets to have poor recall. As I mentioned before, while the same actions might work with some other breeds, the whippets are not the same as other breeds. They are developed to be more adult, more independent, true hunting dogs, in order for them to have the drive to race and course, that’s what was needed to get that work out of them. The downside is that they are not as natural a follower as some breeds, not as naturally stunted as a following puppy.

So, if you remember, the way that we initially got Pax back was that I took the lure and walked with a bit of determination towards the start end of the yard. The only interest I wanted to show Pax was that I had the lure, knew where I was going with it, and shaking it for him invited him to go along. That got his interest, and he came in to the lure once again. Whether a lure, or ball, or whatever, the idea is the same. If you want to bring him back to you, establish yourself as the clear leader for him. Do not chase after him, as he will then run away. Leave enough room for you to turn away from him, and call him and start off in the opposite direction. When he sees you headed somewhere other than following him, he will question who the leader is, realize it is not him, and turn to catch up with you. One of the primary things to do is to not show that you are too anxious to grab him. Show that you are planning on going somewhere, he can come along, should come along, but that he is not going to control the pace, the direction, or your resolve. He should follow you where you intend to go, because really he is just out there to have a good time, see new sights, learn new things, and if you are steering the plans then it takes that responsibility and burden off his shoulders, and he should then be happy to follow along close enough to be gently re-leashed.

Being able to get him back on a leash should be a reward situation, where it isn’t seen as him being caught. All of our recall training is done without a leash for a long time, where when they come back we give them loads of petting and talking, approval, play, and a bit of catch and release, catch and release, where being caught is not a bad thing, but rather a good, pleasant thing. And once a leash is attached, it doesn’t spell the immediate end of the play and fun and reward atmosphere. So the leash doesn’t spell out anything negative in their minds.

As a bit of a reference, there are a great many whippet owners that really have not figured much of this out on their own. You will see it at the upcoming events, and gatherings. A family that is quite close to us are fairly terrified to let their dogs off leash at even safe places like the beach, the lake, where we race, and so on. These are all safe places where the dogs cannot really go that far away (unless they went totally feral), but they have so little confidence in their dogs recall that they just will not risk it. It is at these places that we let our dogs off leash constantly, and the result is they will always stick around. If we give them the go ahead to free run, they will go only as far as they feel comfortable with us in their sight, or to the point we call or whistle them to not go further. Giving them that freedom, and letting them succeed at it, is great for their reliability. Most often, we will have a couple dogs loose while we are setting up the course for the next day, or the race rack, and the dogs are too much under foot. They’d much rather be right with me than running off to the other side of the fields. If that is not decent recall, I don’t know what is. The desire to be with us, to be close, to be interested in what we are doing, to be waiting for us to toss the ball, or talk to them, or whatever, is the result of all that subtle follow the leader training.

As far as that other family goes. After several years, they are finally starting to loosen up a bit. They are still petrified hat something bad will happen to their dogs if they are off leash, but they seem to be forcing themselves to do it occasionally. As much as they want to believe off leash is a bad thing and that injuries or deaths will happen, their eyes do not lie to them, and they see how well it works over and over and over again, and their minds are slowly being opened by reason and their emotions and fears are very slowly learning to be controlled."

This basic advice has really been helping me with Pax's recall. In the past I would call my dogs once and if they did not listen I would walk up to them and calmly and quietly put a leash on and leave. If I try to walk up to Pax he runs away, thinking its a game. Now I just call him once and start walking away. At first he just stared at me, but now he has started to follow me.

I also plan to work with him more on the leash or long line to deal with distracting environments.

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