June 1, 2007

Name: Katie

Age: 5

Crime: Cat Chaser

Bad dog. Bad dog. Bad dog. Sadly, Katie cannot resist a fleeing cat. A standing still cat? No problem. A cat running away from her? She is compelled to follow (i.e., my dog has a high prey drive). The other morning on our usual route through campus Kate discovered a cat hiding under some shrubs on campus, and--ignorning my request to "leave it"--chased the cat in circles until it escaped up a nearby tree. Kate has a pretty good recall (or I wouldn't let her off leash), and on the rare occasion that she ignores me, I can get her attention by running in the opposite direction. (Okay, so one time I had to get in my car and pretend to drive away before she noticed I was leaving, but that was when she was a lot younger.) But once she spotted the cat, it was like I wasn't there. (Sometimes dog people refer to this as "selective hearing." But that implies a choice on her part, and I'd be willing to bet her response was involuntary.) When she finally did come back to me (Oh, you were talking to me? You wanted me to COME HERE NOW? Oops!), I knew I couldn't reprimand her, because you should never EVER punish your dog for coming back to you (because you want your dog to associate returning to you with happy things only). But I didn't praise her either, because I didn't want her to think that I was rewarding her for chasing the cat. S0 instead, I calmly (as calmly as I could because, of course, I was irked) put her leash on, and we returned home (i.e., fun over, walk over).

As we walked home, though, I wondered whether what I did was the best way to respond, and so as I always do when I have dog training questions, I consulted the good folks at Clicker Solutions--one of my favorite places on the web for advice about dog training. I posted my question on the discussion list and, by the end of the day, I had lots of good suggestions for what else I might have done. For example, instead of leaving, I could have stood under the tree, asked her to "watch me," and rewarded her every time she looked at me instead of the cat. And, longer term of course, we need to practice recalls and "leave its" under increasingly distracting conditions--but this I actually knew from being a habitual reader of the CS list.

Note: Happily, no cats were harmed in the circumstances leading to this post. :)

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