A lot of potential client contacts include some form of “My dog won’t come when I call him”. It says a lot about the relationship they are currently experiencing with their dogs when they initiate a conversation with that statement.

It isn’t too difficult to figure out why the dog won’t return to the owner when requested; the owner is usually calling the dog in some misguided attempt to correct or punish a behavior, is calling the dog out of something the dog enjoys in exchange for something the dog decidedly won’t enjoy, like a bath, confinement or something else. The dog has become conditioned to expect something he or she may perceive as unpleasant, and quickly learns to avoid the owner.

More often than not, the dog simply won’t return to his owner because the dog has never been exposed to situations where he had been conditioned to respond appropriately. The dog had either never been conditioned to pay attention to the handler in an environment rich with competing distractions, or the owner simply never made an effort to expose the dog to novel situations. Such is the life of many dogs; restricted to leash, crate, home or yard for the duration of their days.

The dog who lives out the above existence is easily identified when given the opportunity to experience real freedom. They are so overwhelmed by a new environment that the competing distractions pull them further away as the owner’s futile attempts to get their dog to return falls on suddenly deaf ears.

Owners tend to “push” dogs away in their attempt to recapture them. Flailing their arms and aggressively running after their pup as he retreats further and further from them. The canine either figures this is a new game to be enjoyed each and every time he has an opportunity, or continues to run from his owner out of concern for his mortal welfare.

The more practice a dog has to refuse through avoidance and/or escape, the more inclined the command to ‘come’ becomes a signal to retreat away from the handler. Pretty soon, the endless cycle of “ComeHERE!” turns into a battle of wills. Frustratingly; the dog usually wins.

In the following video are two retrievers, a 6 month old Yellow Lab and an 18 month old Golden. Both are males. The younger dog is a bold pup. The Golden, although more mature than the Lab, is somewhat tone deaf and interacting with humans is not very high on his agenda.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHrsC3L8YBI

Between the two, it is easy to see how each dog is readily influenced by the laws of social attraction. The byproduct of both age and the opportunity (or lack of it) to interact with different environments and distractions. The Labrador is owned by a young family with several children and he is pretty well-traveled.

The Golden stands in vivid contrast. He lives with multiple dogs and a largely absent owner.  He is the epitome of conservative in his actions towards humans and depends almost exclusively on the younger, bolder pup for his cues. Towards the end of the clip, it is easy to see how the laws of social attraction have influenced the Golden to interact more willingly with me.

The area is a standard little league baseball field, with two available entrances and no gates. Instead of moving towards the dogs and running the risk of pushing them towards the exits, I persistently move away from them to keep them constantly searching for me and having to cover more ground to reach me. Neither dog had ever been on this particular piece of real estate before. By the time we have made it to far right field, the pups are covering a distance of over 200 feet to reach me.

I absolutely love the difference in temperament between dogs. It makes it abundantly clear how important early imprinting is and provides clarity to the laws of unintended consequences as well. The Golden, left largely to his own devices as a young dog in the care of other dogs, is pretty exclusively dependent of the younger, more human social Labrador for direction. His deliberate indifference to my presence is classic avoidance and if you look closely at his approaches, you can actually see him weigh his ‘options’ before he takes advantage of the available reward.

These two dogs offer an interesting contrast in canine development, the importance of early influences and how it affects future behavior.

The Labrador offers the Golden a spectacular model for behavior in an unambiguous way. Since it is obvious that the Goldens’ prior experiences were heavily influenced by his canine housemates, another dog is the logical choice for a teacher. Through his natural attraction to his own species, the Golden is easily influenced to mimic the Lab and inevitably learns a valuable lesson about the relevance of the humans around him.