Trainer’s Corner: Navigating the Dog Flight Instinct

by Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, Training Expert

New puppy owners who have gotten used to their little friend following them where ever they go and running to them as soon as they call, can be surprised when suddenly their puppy seems to turn a deaf ear to them.

It can be especially frustrating for that owner who has put in a lot of time and energy to teaching the puppy to come, when suddenly it seems all the training has become forgotten.

Often when this happens it is part of a normal phase of puppy development that is commonly referred to as the dog flight instinct period. It usually occurs somewhere between four and eight months (earlier for small dogs) and is marked by increased interest in the environment and growing independence. In nature, this period correlates with their ancestors, the wolves, migrating from their summer den where the puppies were born to their winter quarters.

While this is a temporary phase for your pet, you will need to be careful and consistent in your training during this time so that choosing to ignore your cues to come does not become a lifelong problem.

Below are a few tips for working through the dog flight instinct period.

For starters, take a deep breath, do not get discouraged and recognize that this is a stage that will pass if handled correctly, ‘if handled correctly’ being three very important words. Then put back on that teachers hat and remind yourself that your job is to create lessons where you are helping your friend to succeed. That means:

  • Going back to the basics and practicing those skills of recall, attention and control behaviors like sit and down in environments where your dog can continue to do those behaviors successfully.
  • Keeping your dog on a leash or long line outdoors until this phase passes.
  • Using high value reinforcers for behaviors when you are outside that can include food, an activity your dog loves, or the opportunity to go back to what he was doing before being called by you.
  • Never calling your dog or asking for another behavior when you know you will both fail; and never giving chase to your dog if have mistakenly called your dog in one of these times and he ignores you.
  • And never calling your dog to come if something aversive (from your dog’s perspective) is going to happen when he gets to you.

Lastly, I will repeat, know that you have the ability to keep this period contained. You have many years of friendship ahead of you.

Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com.

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels.

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