We’ve all been there. Fluffy has been to training school and shown how clever and obedient she is. The recall was particularly good and now, walking along the edge of the field, you are finding it difficult not to feel a little smug. In the distance, she spots two figures and she realises that they are none other than Leonberger DiCaprio and Johnny Deppoddle. You hardly see her for dust as she zooms towards them at a rate of knots. “Fluffy come!” You call. “Fluffeeee Come!” You shout. “FLUFFY COME!!” You scream. “FLUFFY $%£*&^ COME HERE YOU LITTLE &^%$£$%^”. Nothing. She is cavorting around with her chums and is oblivious to your protestations.
The training class provides a controlled environment with few distractions. To a sociable Doodle, other dogs or people are the biggest distractions available. The key is to add difficulties in measured amounts and build her recall skills step by step. She won’t be able to deal with degree level recall until she has done her GCSEs. Set yourself up for success and do not ask too much too soon.
It may be necessary to keep her on a lunge line for a while to stop her “flying” off and hurling herself at all and sundry. You can always set her free when she sees familiar dogs that you know will not mind her Doodleish charms.
There’s not much chance that you will be able to stop her running off towards Leo and Johnny unless she has been “proofed” in different situations and with increasing levels of difficulty. Start in the garden with few distractions and then go to a field or park when you know that it will be quiet. When she has mastered that, try when there are other dogs at a distance but you know that you can still keep her attention.
Unless you intend to compete at Crufts, there is no law that says that you have to stand still, facing your dog, so make it fun and run away from her, squeaking toys, waving your arms and generally attracting sniggers from passers-by. When she arrives back, be really animated and leave her in no doubt about how pleased you are.
No dog will want to return to someone who has punished them for a slow recall, so never lose your temper with her. Smile, take deep breaths and take her training back a few steps the next time. If her recall starts to deteriorate (it almost certainly will do as she reaches adolescence) take prompt action. If you allow her to practice selective deafness, her recall will become worse.
Some Ideas for Improving Recall
Take her favourite toy on walks, play with her when you call her back but then put it out of sight. Keep control of this highly prized resource. Always leave her wanting more and only use it for recall.
Only call her once. If you keep shouting, you will teach her to ignore you. Never reprimand, just reduce the criteria next time and set her up for success.
If you have children, hide and seek will help with recall. Teach her to find children hiding behind sofas or in the garden. Children’s’ high pitched voices are good for calling dogs and both dogs and children will love the game. If you are in a wooded area try hiding behind trees if you notice that her attention has wandered. If you are walking with a partner, you can ask them to hold her while you run and hide.
It helps to be able to grab her attention in any situation, even when she is excited, so if she knows a sit or a down, (down is best) then try this game: Put her in a “down” and then release her with an “ok” or similar release word and reward her by playing in an excited way with a ragger or squeaky toy. When she is really wound up, stand still, ignore any jumping or other demands for attention and wait until she is calm enough to obey your request to lie down again. Release her immediately and play with her again. Make sure that the play is really animated and exciting. Before long, the time take to go from excited to calm will be very short and she will throw herself on the floor as soon as you say “down”. Start in the sitting room but then practise outside and in the park. Once you have found the “off switch” it will be much easier to gain her attention in distracting circumstances.
When out lead walking, teach her how to slow down and speed up. Run with her and then slow down to a slow walk. (You will need good loose lead walking for this). Throughout the walk, run or walk fast and then very slowly. As she slows, bring in the word “steady”. Once she is speeding up and slowing down on command, try it off the lead. When she is good at that, get someone else to call her (but not in an excited way). As she runs towards them, shout “steady” to slow her down. The ultimate test will be when you can slow her down as she runs towards another dog.
Another technique that can help to stop her cannonballing off after every dog that she sees, is to teach her to “ask permission” to go and see her friends. Have her on a long line and when she spots a dog, call her back and treat her. She will look again. Attract her attention and treat again. Do this several times and then if it is sage let her play with the dog, release her and let her play. The idea of this exercise is to gradually build up until she spots a dog and instead of rushing over to it, she automatically comes back to you for a treat first. “Asking permission” in this way will stop her from getting into all kinds of trouble. If she comes to you and you are unsure of the other dog, you can slip her lead on and avoid the situation.
Calling Away from Other Dogs
Doodles tend to be very sociable dogs, so teaching them to come away from playing with other dogs can be difficult. If you have a friend with a playful dog, they will love this exercise.
Release both dogs and allow them to play. Walk away, leaving your friend to supervise the dogs. When you have gone a short distance, signal to your friend, who should then take hold of her dog (stopping the game). Call your dog enthusiastically and treat her when she runs to you. Take the collar of your dog and wait for your friend to run to you with her dog. Release both of the dogs and let them play again. Repeat this same several times. The dog will soon learn that it will be rewarded for leaving the other dog by being given treats AND being allowed to play again. Running with your dog is also a very effective reward.
If your dog is playing with a group of dogs, recall can be easier if you all stand together to call the dogs. If your dog has a particular “friend” in a group of dogs, stand next to his owner when you call your dog and they are likely to run back together.
You can help to reinforce a young dog’s recall by walking with an older, more sensible dog and calling them back together.
Choose one of your dog’s favourite toys; ideally, it will be a ball on a rope or a ragger. Call your dog and when she arrives, play enthusiastically for about 30 seconds. Take a treat from your pocket, put it under the dog’s nose and as she opens her mouth, say “drop”. Put the toy away, show her your empty hands, say “enough” and walk away. Repeat this exercise several times a day. With very little effort you have taught her several commands: her name, come to me when called, drop an object when I ask and calm down when I tell you to. Playing with her for only a very short time is important; it leaves her wanting to play and eager for the next training session.