I Won’t… or I Can’t?

August 23, 2017 @ 10:10 pm posted by
This is the third in a series of blogs I am calling “Inspired by Knap”. These blogs come from being reminded about basic training as a result of having a new, very active, very aware puppy in my home… Knap. Without my long background in training dogs, this puppy might be very difficult to live with. With it, we are having a grand time together. Through these blogs, Knap and I want to share some of what is working so well for us with the hope that this will help make training your dog using reward-based training more effective and more fun.


We have taken this walk hundreds of times. Knap knows it well. Today he remained connected, walking nicely on a loose leash to the park, something that is not easy for him because the park promises many exciting smells.

We stopped at the entrance, as we always do. I waited for him to offer a check-in… got a glance (what we call a “fly-by”, a nod to connection but not real connection). We went back outside the entrance (just a bit less exciting) and waited… and he gave me a beautiful auto check-in.

Walking back through the gate again, I recalled him, a test I always do, both to check connection and to make decisions about whether he gets some version of off leash privileges…. Nothing. At best, he would turn his head slightly. But this is not our definition of a recall.

Knap’s recall is fabulous, especially for a 10 month old puppy… He comes in an instant, both to voice and whistle recalls. Knowing that, it would have been easy to say he was being stubborn. But he is not a stubborn dog… dogs aren’t stubborn. Stepping back and looking around us, I realized that school had started.

The school yard, 60 feet beyond a fence, contained a few children and one adult… no great excitement. But it was different from Knap’s normal. It was something unexpected on this walk. For Knap, who is super aware using his eyes, his nose and his ears, this was an onslaught of new information that threw him out of balance. It was not a matter of stubborn. It was not a matter of “I won’t”. It was a matter of “I can’t”. He simply could not process my cues and therefore could not do those recalls that he generally does so beautifully.

It is easy to understand how people can call their dogs stubborn. It happens when behavior that flows so beautifully most of the time, is just not there “all of a sudden”. When it surprises me, as it did this morning, I have to stop… to remember that Knap is doing the best he can do. Not at all stubborn, he simply could not do what I asked.

I moved us farther away from the playground to decrease the input and we waited calmly. And, when he could connect with me, we walked. And no… today he never had off-leash privileges because he would not have been able reliably to respond to my recall.

And tomorrow is another day.

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