Canine Behavior/Defiance



My mom has golden retriever that is almost 3 years old.  She was has very severe anxiety and really panics when her pack is separated.  (I have a border collie and sometimes my mom and I go for a walk with both dogs.  If we separate, her golden retriever panics.  Once off leash, she will run back to where we separated.)  She failed guide dog training and was adopted at about 14 months old.  She has improved greatly but she has intensified in defiant behaviour.  I am positive she is just being a "teenager" a little later in life. I was wondering if you had any tips or ideas.  Here is a specific situation that occurred today.

There is an area that we can run our dogs off leash that is approximately 20' x 400 meters/half kilometer.  It is totally fenced off except the entrance (20' wide).  So 3 sides are fenced off.  When we walk from the entrance down the path to the end (400 meters away)we then turn around.  When we are half way back, the golden retriever takes off to chase the squirrels and she bounces from tree to tree all the way up to the entrance.  She will not respond to any verbal command period.  Including the offerings of treats.  She always keeps herself about 2 feet from being reached when we try to catch her.  It becomes very frusterating, stressful, and causes a lot of anxiety.  She KNOWS the commands so that is not an issue.  She simply ignores us and does what she wants to do, and will do anything at any cost to avoid being caught. She doesn't take anyone seriously at all.  Life is just one big playground for her.  We spent 35 minutes trying to catch her today.

I had a few ideas of how to rectify this but wanted to know if it would be worth trying or if it would intensify the situation.  I am going to help my mom rectify this as she has health issues that makes it difficult.

1.  Take her to the off leash area but keep her on leash and walk down and back.  Not allowing her to play with other dogs, nor respond to squirrels.  Do this for as long as needed so she realizes that she is to focus on us.

2.  Enforce sit stay and come at the off leash area while on leash.  This would teach her the commands are expected to be followed there and at home.

3.  After a month or two, continue with #1 and #2 with a longer leash to ensure she follows the commands and continues to focus on us.  Allow minimal play with other dogs while still on the longer leash.  Longer leash referring to 10'-15'.

Any thoughts, suggestions, questions, or information would be greatly appreciated.

I know you're trying but scrap all items 1 through 3.

Your dog has no recall.  It has been "lost": conditioned response is gone, extinguished.  She has high prey drive; this dog is NOT a candidate for off leash any time, anywhere, and most likely won't be for a couple of years, if ever.  She WILL take off, she will never be seen again, guaranteed.  This is not her fault.  She is not being "defiant"; in fact, she is not cognitively in control, prey drive is automatic response.  To her, standing within two feet while you "try" to "catch" her (at which point are YOU ANGRY?  Most likely, who could blame you with all that anxiety, so now the dog knows you're ANGRY if you "catch" her and she has no idea why) - this began as a "game" ("catch me") and is now a conditioned fear response.  STOP.

To develop a solid recall, you must start from the beginning.  I designed this easy to follow program as a starter kit:

   Choose a word that you and no one is your family EVER uses.  DO NOT use "come"...that word has very little meaning to your dog at this point, since he's basically been taught to ignore it.  For our purpose here, we will use the word "PRESTO."

   Using a TREAT (something your dog really, really wants), walk up to the dog, stand directly in front of him, say "presto", pop treat in dog's mouth.  Repeat this twice more.  Now take a few steps backward.  Your dog will come toward you (almost all of them do   if he doesn't, repeat the first step three more times.)  AS he comes toward you, say "Presto" and pop the treat in his mouth.  What you are doing is associating the word with the ACTION and offering the treat when the dog is IN FRONT OF YOU.  Repeat this twice more, end session.  Later in the day, repeat the above scenario again. Do this twice a day (for short intervals) three days in a row.

   On the fourth day, catch your dog's eye and say "Presto".  Don't be more than a few feet away.  Give the dog three or four seconds to process what's happening.  He should come towards you.  If he does not, WALK OUT OF THE ROOM, count to ten, go back INTO the room and start from Square One (as if teaching it from the beginning.)  What you're doing is building a conditioned response to the word "Presto" which involves the dog coming TOWARD you and  receiving a treat while standing  STILL in front of you.  It takes up to 60 repetitions to get a strong conditioned response.  Once you have ten out of ten successful trials (dog always comes toward you when you say "Presto" and you always give him the treat once he's reached you), you can begin to play "recall" games inside the house.  (Do NOT take this routine OUTSIDE where there are far too many distractions until your dog is ROCK SOLID INSIDE, and this might take several weeks.)  To play this game, you can begin by saying "Presto" from the next room, but don't confuse the dog too much, make it easy for him.  You can then make it a bit more difficult and increase the value of the TREAT (this is called "jackpotting") when the dog finds you in another room.  This makes "work" fun for the dog and for you, turning your training sessions into something upbeat.  The last step is taking PRESTO outside.  A confined area (fenced in) is ALWAYS mandatory.  You've taught the dog to come toyou when called WITHOUT A LEASE, let's try to keep it that way.  A Leash is ALWALYS "psychological restraint" to a dog...he knows you're in control.  When the dog comes to you from his free choice, he's making a DECISION.  This is long term memory in the making.

  Repeat your recall exercises at least once or twice a week for several months.  Make the REWARD interesting and varied and NEVER, EVER use the word "presto" (or whatever other recall word you have) for anything ELSE other than recall work.

Now: round robin recall is a great device but only in a fenced in area and only AFTER the dog has a clear conditioned response and NEVER FAILS (ten out of ten trials).  Because of her conditioned fear response on "capture" this is going to take time.  Once you've achieved it, play "round robin" in fenced in area; because she is insecure without her "pack", let them be with you on leash, she will not be on leash.  Get a few friends together, sit (SIT) in a circle on the ground, have a baggy with cut up string cheese with you.  Randomly call her (Presto) around the circle for about five minutes, food reward her when she gets to you (and if you have another dog on leash, food reward THAT dog, too; this is part of maintaining social hierarchy AND dogs learn from observing one another, killing two frogs with one cheese).  Have a "party", be happy, upbeat, end on full compliance (dog has come successfully) with a "jackpot" - fistful of cheese.  Do this whenever possible, once a week or twice if you can.

DO NOT allow this dog off leash.  You can purchase an extending leash to allow her to gain distance between you and her but you cannot EVER allow her to "ignore" the recall and you cannot EVER allow her to increase her prey drive response.  

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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