Downeast Dog News

Our Dogs are Calculating Geniuses!

Staying Beyond Arm’s Length
By | Feb 01, 2018
Photo by: Astro shows off his leap as he catches a snowball in midair.

The frisbee is quickly airborne, arcing up, spinning, lifting, then descending and BAM, the dog leaps up and snatches it out of the sky with seemingly little effort. Brilliant! If you’ve ever watched a dog catch an object, you know it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. They have to calculate the trajectory of the object and calibrate/recalibrate its path in real-time, all the while positioning themselves strategically for their goal: the intersect!

The “instinctive arithmetic” dogs possess gives them a veritable superpower when it comes to flying objects and movement. After all, they are predators and this genetically-programmed power combined with plenty of practice demonstrates their forebears’ highly-tuned hunting skills. The game of fetch is, in essence, a byproduct of their ancestors’ quest for survival.

So... why do we think we can outsmart them, outrun or outmaneuver them when they possess this superpower and we are but slow-moving bipeds with visually loud and obvious intentions? They are astute observers of even the subtlest movement which provides them with valuable insider information on what’s most likely about to occur next. If for some reason they dislike it, they will activate evasive tactics.

Do you have a dog who tries to avoid you, who runs away when you want to put on his leash, dodges your every move or stays just beyond your reach? Dogs know precisely how long our arms are. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. There are things you can do and not do to minimize your dog’s avoidance behavior.

“Reflexive Magic”

If your dog shows the slightest hint of even thinking about avoiding you, STOP. Don’t try again or get mad or move faster. It may work once, but it’s unlikely to be a successful strategy going forward. Your dog will simply reset his navigational system to anticipate your behavior in the future. You need to change tactics, change your behavior and habits. Pronto. You are dealing with a pro!

Our dogs avoid because, in their minds, something bad might happen. You need to do everything in your power to turn what he considers bad into something great. You will do this through skills training and generous rewards.

Did you know that facing your dog, in canine communication, is a signal to stay outside of your personal space? If you want him to come, it’s better to face the direction you want him to go and then reward him generously for coming with you. A practice to avoid at all costs is chasing your dog or removing something from his mouth against his will; these things will increase his desire to avoid you. Teach him a good recall and a “drop it” instead.

Play loads of “with me” games such as following, chasing you, targeting, etc. Teach your dog to perch on objects, which will keep him stationary. Teach your dog the “middle” position. In this position, you are standing and straddling your dog between your legs. Simultaneously feed your dog and reach down to secure his collar.

Prevent Avoidance

Put a short line on your dog (but at least as long as your arm) and attach it to his body harness. Eliminating the choice to avoid you sets you up to be able to reward him. A client's dog taught her owner the not-so-fun game of having to chase her down to put her collar on. I instructed her to invite her dog into a small room (her bathroom) and then put the collar on with the leash already attached. She gave her treats, too, and soon the dog was happy to have the collar put on. After several weeks, she was able to simply put the collar on her dog wherever she was, without treats. It was just a matter of changing the pattern.

What does your dog tend to avoid? How might you help change his mind?