Golden Retriever

Mika: Good Girl Gone Bad

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Can an older dog learn new tricks? Many people hold the belief that there is an age limit related to a train-ability factor with their dogs. This is simply not true – as in the case of Mika.

Golden Retrievers are one of the most gentle beloved canines to ever grace our human presence, and Mika is no exception. Sweet to the core, eyes that melt your heart in a second – this girl wants nothing more than to be at your side every moment of the day, until it’s time for that hike on a wooded trail.

At the sight of a deer, Mika’s whole demeanor would change. Her head would snap up, eyes locked onto the target and then she would instantaneously abandon her owner in pursuit of a full out party-chase. Maria the owner, would typically call out to her dog to come back, to no avail. The level of frustration and helplessness that Maria felt, translated into a scolding after the fact. Yet time and time again the same scenario unfolded while out hiking.

A dog that loses complete focus is the core of developing bad behaviour over time. Add excitement by distraction and you now have a viral common problem that most dog owners could relate to. Maria was obviously not alone in her predicament. How do you train an older dog new habits?

First: By truly identifying the specific issues causing the unwanted behaviour.

Second: By recognizing that all unwanted behaviour often starts in the home.

One would assume that the cause of Mika’s runaway action was directly caused at the moment the deer suddenly appeared upon the horizon. Mika’s problem was over-excitement coupled with lack of focus.

The deer represented the moment of distraction, but in actual fact this ingrained behaviour started at home. Think about it. If your dog exhibits huge excitement when presented with the leash, while in the process of donning the equipment and then allowed a frenetic bolt out the front door and gate – how could you expect any different behaviour while out on your neighborhood walk, let alone at the dog park or free roam on a wooded trail? Who causes the degree of excitement and non-focus? You do: By producing and condoning unwanted behaviour right from the start. Let’s face it:  It’s just easier for all of us to blame the deer!

The solution was straightforward. We chunked down the steps to make it easier for both dog and owner. Maria learned to focus on eliminating boisterous talk (which causes excitement) while leashing up. Mika was then able to gain a quiet focused departure from the house that enabled her to learn how to maintain that sense of focus during a regular on-leash walk. Focus and obedience started there. Teaching Mika to heel in a proper position gave her cause to focus on her owner. (That’s called a job… And I speak of it often.)

This up close leash work then naturally set Mika up for success, followed by re-call training sessions using the long-line. Maria worked diligently to gain the skills of correction and reward with the right timing, alongside the use of the right equipment and how to use it effectively.

This training took place a year ago (April 2015), yet today you would find Maria and her loving canine companion happily trekking along the Okanagan trails with friends that have also attested to Mika’s change in attention span. This bad girl has gone good again.