Today seemed like a good day to approach the subject of recall because Caramel has just reached her first birthday and recall, thus far, has been a great source of distress for us.
For many months I have stared longingly at the well behaved dogs, completely green with envy – the ones that walk right next to their owners looking up at them constantly or the ones that swivel back immediately when called.
After too many a ‘Fentonnnnn!!!’ moment, Caramel has been resigned to a long training lead (again). At least in open fields..
To set some context to our issue, Caramel isn’t the type of dog that would run off chasing something or wander deep into the forest and get lost. She generally sticks nearby and when we are too far/just out of sight, she’ll come bounding up to us again.
However, Caramel’s main distraction, which trumps recall, is other dogs.
Ever since we adopted her at 4 months old Caramel has had this unrivalled confidence about her, which is a blessing but also a curse. She isn’t scared of anything – except the bath – but if there’s a dog on the other side of a huge field she’ll bound over without a shadow of a doubt about what we’re asking from her, or the distance to which she must cover to get there.
At first we thought it was just her being an excitable, playful puppy. But soon it become apparent that this behaviour would not cease unless we actively discouraged her from doing it/encouraged her to do something else in the face of such sheer excitement.
Personally, this behaviour has made me feel like an awful owner who can’t control my dog. To allow your dog to hurtle over to every dog is not responsible and I know that. This is made even worse by the fact that some dogs are anxious or reactive. You don’t know what issues other dog owners are working through and Caramel charging into another dogs face, despite the complete innocence of it, does no favours for anyone.
We’ve been told various tips and tricks to improve recall from dog trainers and other dog owners so I’ll share some of the things we do and then some of the things that work best for us.
What we do
- High value treats – e.g. cheese, hotdogs, ham, Doggie Pâté
- Use of a favourite toy – only use it for recall
- Be super exciting to come back to, use a high pitch voice, jump around, get them excited
- Only use one word/phrase and stick to it
- Practice recall in less distracting environments and build it up
- Attach a 10-20m long line for walks
- Reward/treat your dog for regularly checking in on you
What works best for us
All of the above methods work and I know plenty of dogs who are highly treat motivated so that’s all they need. But these methods on their own weren’t enough for Caramel.
Our biggest demon with Caramel is her lack of attention when there is a distraction, i.e. another dog, and then acting on it. Being allowed to act on it on too many occasions probably doesn’t help either.
In situations like this none of these methods were working to keep her attention. We couldn’t regain her attention again by treats, or walk her past another dog without going mental for the lure of a treat, no matter how high value.
At home, with very few distractions present, she will do anything for treats.
But on walks this isn’t the case. You could have a whole block of cheese in your hand and she’d still be looking at the other dog wanting to run over and play.
In the past two weeks, i’ve been enlightened to the interactive game of ‘find it’. It basically involves getting your dogs attention and then throwing a treat a small distance away and asking them to ‘find it’. This works the best for us because Caramel is so motivated by scent. She spends the majority of our walks sniffing the ground and isn’t much interested in playing fetch etc. So I’ve put her love of sniffing to good use with this game and it helps break her attention away from other dogs, encouraging her to play a game she enjoys and be rewarded with food for ‘playing’.
Whenever I see a dog now I get Caramel’s attention, before she has a chance to become distracted, and throw a treat with the command ‘find it’.
In addition to ‘find it’ I have started feeding her after our walks. Previously I was feeding her before our morning walk because she was sometimes hunger vomiting but since changing her diet she isn’t doing this anymore.
Since we’ve started playing ‘find it’ and feeding her after walks, her recall is improving a lot! She even completely ignored an off lead German Shepherd recently, who was only 10-15 metres away retrieving his ball. This never would have been possible a few weeks earlier.
At the moment I have a 10m long line attached to her which trails along the ground so I can easily stop her if she decides to act on her impulses. It’s lightweight enough that it doesn’t tire her out or feel like she is being constantly held. This is important because when I finally take the long line off I don’t want her to feel like she’s ‘free’ and can do whatever she wants again!
Touch wood we have turned a corner after all those months of pulling our hair out. I’ll post again soon with a recall update.
M & C