Dog on the Couch

2016-03-03 06:00

I AM on holiday at the coast with my dog. When out walking him in his home environment his response to my call is quick and unfailing, even when he’s distracted by something, but today when he saw monkeys for the first time, he went wild and totally ignored my frantic calling. I’m now worried that he may react like this when confronted by any unforeseen novelty in future. Do you have any suggestions?


THE dog goes into prey drive, which is deeply imbedded in the genetic predatory pattern of the brain. Perhaps your dog is a hunting breed, which would exacerbate this problem. In any case, what happens in a situation of unusual stimulus is that, to all intents and purposes, your dog becomes momentarily deaf to your calling, no matter how loudly you shout. Dogs are not the only species to exhibit this reaction. The “fight or flight” mode is activated by an adrenalin surge, in this case precipitated by a first sighting of monkeys, and of course your dog became absolutely single-minded in his pursuit of them.

Because your dog normally responds well to your call, it might be possible in such a situation to prevent him entering this almost mindless state if you were able to foresee the potential distraction and immediately make your call, nipping his chase-response in the bud. If you can’t re-direct his attention at that critical point, then keep calling the dog until he regains even a little of his usual composure.

Not all dogs will be controllable in this way, but as your dog is in the habit of responding to you in ordinary situations, you certainly have a good basis for getting him to respond in unusual ones. Practise recalls in different situations, beginning with mild distractions and increasing the variety and value until you can achieve a distraction more or less equal to the monkeys (Yes, Animal Farm, I know). You may have to visit monkey territory again to test this training, but if you do, keep the dog on a lead to monitor him when monkeys are heard approaching.

- Susan Henderson© - accredited animal behaviourist.

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