Cockerpoo Lacey is a very, very busy pup! She is eight months old and so like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle at that age – on the go all the time looking for ‘mischief’ which really is finding ways to employ her clever brain, get rid of her abundant energy – and to be rewarded with attention in the process. Everything Lacey does, she does a bit too much of!
The end aim of having me out to see them is for both dogs to be trusted to come when called when out on walks. Being kept on lead is particularly frustrating for Lacey who needs freedom to run and sniff and do Spaniel things. Still a puppy, she doesn’t go far, but they can see this getting worse now she’s adolescent. If Henry sees a dog in the distance, he’s off.
The lady dreams of going for walks through the fields with her lovely dogs happily walking along off lead beside her.
I remember reading a quote which said ‘Recalls are all about Relationship’. Most dogs that won’t come back fully understand what it is wanted of them but decide they have something better to do first. They hear their humans call, but don’t consider them sufficiently important, relevant, rewarding or fun to come running back to.
This ‘relationship’ can be worked on at home by not always obeying the dogs’ every whim whilst also initiating activities frequently – interesting and fulfilling things that make you rewarding to do things with – by having a bit more influence over the dogs’ actions. In the house the humans should be able to get the dog’s attention when they say his or her name – straight away. The dog should come willingly from the other side of the room when asked. Playing recall games around the house is a great way to build an automatic response to being called.
Out on walks this can be continued with one dog on a long line and the other on the normal lead, alternating dogs, walking the other way as they call so the dog thinks they are leaving and not hanging about. How can the people be more salient than a pheasant, a rabbit or a dog the other side of the field? That is the million dollar question! We need to be challenging and exciting with a mix of play, games the particular dog likes best and high quality food rewards – a variety to keep the dog guessing. With sufficient work over time, coming back when called will become the default.
Anything that is rehearsed a sufficient number of times, good or bad, will eventually become engrained. We are looking at one thousand successful recalls – at least – at home and in environments where the dog is set up to succeed before expecting ‘coming when called’ to work reliably in distracting environments when out.
When the lady’s dreams of walking her off-lead dogs eventually come true, she still can’t relax unfortunately. We can’t escape those irresponsible people who let their aggressive or unruly dogs run unchecked. What a great world it would be for dog walkers if every dog was properly taught to come when called!