Recognizing dog avoidance behaviors and how to stop them.
For the most part, Labs are not big fans of obedience training. They love to retrieve but walking at heel and sitting in a structured environment is not their favorite thing. And they often make their feelings well known. We often see Labrador Retrievers mope and pout when we put a lead on them and start doing basic obedience. Their ears are pulled back and their tails drop down between their legs. It is obvious they are not happy.
Some dogs take it a bit further and will try to lay or sit down and not move. This is classic avoidance behavior and the worst thing you can do is allow this behavior to continue. To combat these behaviors, you need to first be able to identify them. Take some time to learn about dog avoidance behaviors, how to recognize them and most importantly, how to combat this behavior so that it does not derail your training.
What are dog avoidance behaviors?
Avoidance behaviors are just like they sound – a behavior that your dog performs expecting that he/she will be able to get out of doing the work. Work can be as simple as going for a walk, training on obedience or anything else he/she does not want to do.
Some examples of how this may look, include:
- You are on a walk and your dog suddenly sits down and refuses to move.
- While working on obedience your dog starts laying down when you say SIT.
- You reach for your dog to put a collar on him/her, and they lay down and roll over.
- You are working on obedience commands and your dog starts taking longer and longer to SIT.
These are just a few examples, but there are many, many more I could list.
Avoidance behaviors are when your dog decides to stop doing the work, whatever you are working on, and decides to lay down, sit down or just refuse to budge. We call this leaving the classroom, and it can happen anywhere – at home, in the yard, or on a walk. This can even happen while out hunting. Basically, the dog just decides to stop trying.
Some clients tell us that their dog is lazy or tired. But that is rarely the case. It is more likely that the dog is using avoidance to get out of doing work that he/she does not want to do. Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we call this lack of effort. And it is a behavior that must be corrected, or it will become a habitual behavior.
How can I be sure that it is avoidance and not something else?
Some dogs are skilled at making themselves appear pitiful and if you buy into that behavior, it only feeds it. But it is good to rule out any health or injury before assuming your dog is using avoidance.
If your dog does not normally sit-down during walks or obedience, then the first time it happens you should most certainly take time inspect your dog and make sure that nothing is wrong. In addition, if your dog is overweight or out of shape, this may be adding to the problem. But if this behavior has been going on for a while, then it is unlikely that there is an injury or illness causing it.
- Did your dog seem perfectly well when you started your walk? Was there any signs of illness or injury during the walk or training session prior to this behavior? If not, it is likely you are dealing with an avoidance behavior issue.
- If you take out a bumper or toy, does your dog instantly jump up like everything is fine?
- Was the laying down proceeded by a slow response to commands and a general pokiness to obeying commands.
If any of these things are true, you are likely dealing with a severe case of avoidance instead of an injury or illness.
If you have been on an exceedingly long walk and is it extremely hot outside, you may be dealing with dehydration or heat stroke. So, be sure to use common sense.
How to handle a dogs avoidance behavior?
It is important that your dog quickly learns that avoidance will not get him/her out of doing work. It does not matter if the work is simply a walk around the block or 15 minutes of obedience work. To teach this lesson, you must be ready and watching for an avoidance response and then you must act quickly to combat the avoidance behavior.
We have a saying, “work fast dogs slow and slow dogs fast.”
What this means is that if you have a dog that likes to pull you around and likes to move quickly at everything they do, then when you take walks or do obedience work, you should move slowly. This is important because we do not want to let the dog train us, we want to train the dog.
If you have a dog that is slow, one that you are dragging through an obedience routine, who acts like it is all he/she can do to put one foot in front of the other, then you need to be working that dog fast. Walk faster, expect a speedy response to SIT and HERE commands.
With that background, if your dog suddenly SITS for no reason during your walk, the last thing you want to do is stop and allow the obvious avoidance behavior. Rather, use quick, sharp tugs on the chain collar and a NO, HEEL command to encourage your dog to get back up and keep moving.
Hopefully, you are using the right equipment for obedience training otherwise this is going to be a big challenge. A chain or prong collar is the best option for obedience training and for walks. Or, alternately, you could use an electronic collar assuming your dog has been properly collar conditioned to the e-collar.
What if my dog lays down or rolls over and refuses to get up?
Some dogs will literally lay down during training and roll over on their back to avoid working. This is classic avoidance behavior, and your response should be the same as I stated above. When you continue walking you may end up dragging your dog for a bit. Do not worry, it is rare that a dog will stay on his/her back if you start using sharp tugs on a chain or prong collar while pulling them. The option for your dog must be this, “We are going to do the work one way or another, so you might as well get up and do it.”
If this seems harsh, consider the alternative. If you allow your dog to continue with his/her avoidance, you will have started down a path of behavior that you may never be able to fix. Your dog will have learned that he/she can control you and any situation that he/she does not like. This can make for an exceedingly difficult home life.
My dog lays down during training and/or walks.
We often see this avoidance issue during obedience training, and it takes a lot of consistency to fix it.
As previously stated, it is vital that your dog is not allowed to get away with the avoidance.
When working with a dog displaying this avoidance behavior, I watch the dog’s behavior very carefully. As soon as I notice the dog starting to lay down instead of SIT, I say a sharp “NO” and repeat the SIT command. I also will take one step away from the dog and give a sharp tug on the chain collar.
Fixing this issue requires you, the trainer, to be very in-tune with your dog. You must be able to almost read your dogs’ mind and tell when they are just ready to perform an avoidance behavior. By giving the “No” and “SIT” command at just the right time, your dog will quickly learn exactly what behavior they are being corrected for. If you are a bit slower to react, the learning will still happen but at a slower rate.
My puppy lays down when I put a collar and leash on him/her.
This is such a common problem. Many of the dogs that come to us for training start off their journey displaying this behavior. The problem is usually that they have been allowed to do this for some time and have not been corrected for it.
When a puppy lays down or even just puts his head down or turns away from you when you are trying to put a collar or leash on him/her, this is avoidance behavior. This is a little different from a dog that just decides to stop trying and lays down while in the middle of training. With this behavior, your puppy has decided that if he/she can just avoid getting a collar or leash on he/she will not have to do the work.
This is one of the first things I work on with each dog as it starts our training program. I absolutely hate having to wrestle a dog to get a collar on. In fact, our personal dogs have never had this issue. One reason is that we are deliberate about introducing the collar and leash as an incredibly positive thing. We want our dogs to understand that getting a collar or leash on are a good thing. It means that they will get to go outside and have some fun.
All the dogs that we train, within a few weeks, learn that getting a collar and leash on are a good thing. Once this has been communicated to the dog, they do not hesitate to SIT and stay still while we put the collar and leash on them. Some even will move their head into the collar to speed the process.
How do I teach my pup to SIT still while I put collar and leash on them?
If you have been struggling with this, you might think that teaching this is a lot of work. But it really is not. First, you need to make putting on a collar and/or leash a routine event. One way to do this is to put a collar on your dog each time you let your dog outside. If you are using an e-collar, this is particularly helpful. Just make it a habit to always strap the collar on just before you let your dog outside.
Next, you should try to let your dog have some fun each time you let him/her out. Throw a few fun bumpers for him/her. Make going outside with the collar a good experience. If you are going out to do obedience training, take a couple moments to do a few fun retrieves before you start the obedience work. Also, end each session with a few fun retrieves.
Always make your dog SIT while you put on the collar and/or leash. If they start to lay down, say “NO – SIT” and then make them SIT. If you dog has a normal collar on, you can correct the SIT by grabbing his/her collar and lifting them to a SIT position. Once they are sitting, say “GOOD DOG” and again proceed to put the collar on.
No one said this would be easy. Some dogs will continue to drop down each time you get close to their heads with the leash or collar. Be persistent. You must be more stubborn than the dog. Trust me, it will get easier when your do realizes that you will not give up and let them get away with the avoidance behavior. The worst thing you can do is let the dog win. If they do, the next time you will be in for even a bigger fight.
Avoidance behaviors can be a huge problem for working dogs.
We train working dogs here are Otter Tail Kennels. All the dogs trained here are used for hunting and/or for competition in Hunt Tests, so avoidance cannot be an issue. The last thing a hunter wants is a dog that decides a half-hour into a hunt that he/she is done and does not want to hunt anymore.
For this reason, it is vital that owners of working dogs quickly and efficiently stop all avoidance behaviors before they become a problem. It is much easier to stop an avoidance problem with a young dog than with an older dog that has been avoiding work for years.
Don’t use treats, will reinforce the avoidance behavior!
I have heard some trainers advise owners to use treats to “bribe” the dog into working or moving again. I disagree with this training method. The use of treats to correct avoidance behaviors will only reinforce an already bad behavior. If a dog is rewarded with food each time they avoid work, they are going to start avoiding more and more.
Instead, you must overcome the avoidance behaviors by teaching your dog that the behavior is not acceptable and never will be. Once they realize that the avoidance behavior is not going to get them out of the training or work, they will stop trying to avoid.
Final thoughts on why your dog lays down when training?
Dog avoidance behaviors are quite common and can be corrected quickly and easily with firm and consistent correction. Once you have ruled out any illness or injury, you should take steps to correct your dog any time they are performing an avoidance behavior. If you quickly show your dog that the behavior is not acceptable, you will notice that the avoidance behaviors will slowly disappear, and your dog will become more obedient.
Want to learn more about how to obedience train a Labrador puppy?
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call. I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.