So who has a dog that doesn't come when you call them?
As a dog walker I have a few clients, who could do with a little bit of improvement on their recalls and a few who need a lot of work!
Now I am no professional trainer (not yet anyway, I'm working on it! So far completing with Higher Distinction level 3 Dog training online course), but I have been spending a lot of time watching videos and reading blogs on dog training and I am picking up some tips. Last week, Arthur was recovering from being neutered so we did individual walks with him to keep him calm, so this was a good opportunity to do some one on one training with him. We made some great progress, he really wants to please and has a great recall, however his sit stay needs some work, as there is a little bit of anxiety in being left alone, so he comes with you, but that's fine, he's still young so he's like a sponge soaking in what ever you can teach him.
But what do you do if your dog is a bit older and has had a troubled start in life, so has missed out on the all important puppy training?
This is the case with Rook, the Deerhound x lurcher. Rook is a lovely dog, who is very loving, he gets on with all the other dogs on the walk and is well behaved for the most part, however when I call the group in, he will "sort of" come, hanging around the outskirts out of reach, despite all the others getting treats, its either a case of him saying "nah, your alright I'm fine doing what I want" or he just doesn't know what he's supposed to do, because no one has told him, I’m also wondering if he has learnt his name yet. I think it is the latter.
I have recently taken on several new clients, which means most of my group morning walks can now be anything up to 6 dogs, so as you can imagine it can look a bit mad, and intimidating to other dog walkers, so it's really important that I can call all the dogs in and they come immediately, then if I need to put them on the lead, this can be done easily and under control. I am fortunate enough to be able to take the groups to quieter locations, which helps!
Today with the help of 4 greedy labs (who will do anything for a treat!) we worked on Rook's recalls. Believe me it's not easy to train a dog in a group who needs a bit more work than the others, as the others get frustrated for not being rewarded when they know they are doing it! So I always have a handful of treats so I can dispense them quickly, this can then make the last one be a bit more interested as he thinks he's missing out - that's the theory anyway.
Obviously working one to one with a dog is much better to start with, so this is your homework!
I don't always have the luxury to work one to one with your dogs, so it is a bit of a case of running before they know how to walk, so it's really important you are working with your dog too - always! I still go over training methods with my 11 year old Rowan, to keep it fresh in her head, I know she can sit, stay and I can walk fifty paces away and recall her, but it would be neglectful of me not to keep doing it and then expect her to do it in an emergency situation, they will remember, but it's good for your peace of mind to keep up the training, she also has an ongoing barking issue, which I am working on.
I have got into a trainer in America, Zak George and his training video's online, it's a little bit annoying as you have to put up with him advertising products and according to other qualified trainers they don't all necessarily agree with his methods, but I have been using some and they do work, so I'm up for that. He uses Positive Reinforcement, which basically means you reward the good stuff and ignore the bad.
So let's go back to Rook. How do I get Rook to come to me, well sometimes with difficulty to be honest, but I want him to enjoy his walk as much as the other dogs, I don't want him stuck on the lead, while the others are having fun, because he can't be trusted. So today we did some focussing work. Using "The Crazy Woman Walk" method, this is a fun exercise where I am out walking and then I change direction, suddenly without warning and without saying anything, the idea is for your dog to notice and follow, then you change direction again and again, varying your speeds so sometimes I'm running, sometimes walking - you look nuts but the dogs really get into it! (I have to be careful no one is getting too excited as this can cause arguments if someone gets trampled).
Its also a great thing to do, when you are teaching your dog to walk to heel on a loose lead. I did a lot of this with Arthur last week, I also included stopping and asking him to sit by my side, as if we were about to cross the road, eventually when I stopped he knew that was his cue to sit without me telling him, he was very good at it, if he sat a bit skewiff I walked on a step and turned around to bring him back to the right position. (Practise it everywhere - woods, park, street, don't worry about what people think when they see you walking backwards and forwards on the street, they will be more impressed by your great heel control and remember to reward and praise heavily).
So once we had done a bit of “Crazy Woman Walking” we walked on, I then called the dogs in - watch the video to see what happened, it's easier than explaining.
Click HERE (warning: turn your volume down, I'm right by the mic and a bit loud!!)
You may notice I am down at the dog's eye level, this was so that as soon as I saw Rook even just turn his head and look at me, I rewarded him with a big “yes” and when he started to walk towards me there was more “yes” rewards, this is used instead of a clicker, but in the same manner, that as soon as they start to do what you want, you are clicking or saying “yes” to let them know they are on the right track. You will also notice I am trying to call him with an upbeat inviting tone (not always easy, as he is a bit stubborn and I had to correct myself when I was getting a bit frustrated and my voice went a bit gruff, and croaky - I want him to come to me because he wants to, because he knows I’m irresistible and I have got some great tasty rewards for him) as you can see it wasn’t easy and although I was dispensing treats to the other dogs, who were desperately telling me they were doing it right so give us some more treats - even snuggling into all my pockets to find my stash! We got there in the end and Rook actually got his head into the group of dogs and took the rewards (which he doesn’t readily do either, taking food from my hand is a bit foreign to him too, again probably to his unhappy start as a puppy and his past experience with humans).
I was really pleased with Rook, I’m not bothered he doesn't want to or know how to sit on command yet, I just want to get him to come when called, confidently, knowing nothing bad will happen when he gets close.
So I will be continuing with this method, until we get better and better, and then when the “real Rook challenge” arises, he see’s something irresistible in the distance, which he sets his sights on and then just has to go say hello - at full speed - and there is no way of getting his attention back. I just might have more of a chance.
However, I only have Rook (and the other scallywags who are the same as Rook) twice a week for an hour, this isn’t enough for him to learn, he needs to be practising this everywhere and every day, as I said before I am asking him to run before he can walk asking for a recall outside on a walk with distractions and other dogs at a distance. So this is your homework, I recommend you watch Zak’s video and then practise, take it back to the basics at home and when you are out and about with your dogs on your own. Let's see if we can together crack the recalls.
Take these videos with a pinch of salt, he makes out this is the first time he has worked with the dog, it's not! It will take you longer than the five minutes it takes him! Click HERE to watch.
If anyone wants any help with some one to one, let me know, it’s sometimes good to have someone watching so they can see what’s going wrong. And please if anyone has any great tips on how you got your dog to stop ignoring you, post your comments below, let’s all help each other.