Monthly Archives: July 2013

Let’s talk about recall

Well I guess I should start using this blog for a bit more than pictures and random Spendog updates.  Like for the training blog it was actually meant to be lol.  I am not a professional dog trainer or behaviourist or anything like that.  This is all just my own experience with my own dogs and the occasional help given to a friend.  I clicker train and most behaviours I teach Spencer are taught by shaping (breaking the behaviour down into small steps and reinforcing each step until we reach the end goal) but I do use lures now and then and occasionally the dreaded “no” word comes out of my mouth.

So, recall.  Or the art of getting the dog to return to you when you call it.  Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Well with some dogs it certainly seems to be.  I know a few people who’ve put in no real effort to teach a recall and yet their dogs stop on a dime, whip round and race back to them the instant they call no matter what they were doing.  Am I jealous?  Oh hell yes!  But for the rest of us recall is often something that has us tearing our hair out.  Well, it is for me anyway.  Shadows recall wasn’t good.  I still remember our trainer, who always said never to chase a dog that wouldn’t come to you, legging it around a field along with several others trying to get him back so we could go home.  And if it rained while we were on the field he would disappear.  I have no idea where he went, there was no for him TO go, but he’d come back a while later bone dry while we were soaked to the skin.  Wolfs recall was excellent, the stop on a dime and come back no matter what type, but I think that was purely an accident.  Rupert had an okay recall but at the slightest hint of prey he would head for the horizon so couldn’t be trusted off leash unless in a secure area.

And now I have Spencer.  Spen is a pretty easy going fellow who for the most part is happy to do whatever it is you’re asking of him as long as he knows what is being asked.  But, he came to me utterly obsessed with other dogs.  One of those dogs who’d leg it across a field to go and bounce on another dogs head in sheer excitement and desire to play.  Recall?  What recall?  Oh he’d come back happily enough providing there were no other dogs around.  But add another dog into the equation and forget it.  This is something we’re still working on but we’ve gone from him being likely to leg it across a field to see another dog to him being able to recall with another dog much closer than that.  When it gets to within about 10 metres is where it starts falling apart, it seems.  I can’t be sure as if we have to pass close to another dog I leash him until I can check it’s okay for them to meet.

Sadly there is no magic trick to getting a “perfect” (sorry, I don’t believe you can ever 100% guarantee a dog will recall no matter what) recall.  You can’t just wave a magic wand and instil your dog with excellent recall in all situations as much as I might wish you could.  As with everything else it’s a case of teaching the dog what the cue means and putting in the time and effort to proof it in different places and different situations.  The more a dog practises a behaviour the better it gets at it.  Which is why management while teaching is so important.  If your dog is allowed to keep running up to other dogs then the more ingrained the behaviour becomes and the harder it is to stop. I used a long line with Spencer on walks to give him some freedom to run around, do doggy things and burn off some energy while preventing him from legging it to say hello to any other dogs who appeared.  We did lots of very easy recalls at home and just outside our flat.  I varied the rewards so sometimes he’d get hot chicken covered in melted cheese, sometimes a lower value food reward such as cheese or sausage, sometimes a piece of kibble.  Sometimes I even took a tupperware container filled with minced green tripe out on our walks and spoon fed him a little each time he came when called.  I also used toys and playing chase as rewards for coming when called, sometimes food just doesn’t cut it, not even for a stomach on legs Labrador and Spen would much rather play than eat.  I also made a point of recalling, rewarding and sending him back to what he was doing.  All too often people make the mistake of only calling their dog back when it’s time to go home so of course the dog associates coming when called with the fun times ending.

Another thing I did was teach him that simply coming to me from time to time without being called was worth his while.  All I did with this was click and toss him a treat any time he glanced in my direction.  Or if he happened to come close to me (even if it was accidentally while trotting past or stopping to sniff something).  He soon got the idea and started offering to come walk with me.  Now he tends to come up to me every five minutes or so without me calling him.  I get a lot of “oh but he’s only doing it coz he wants a treat!” but quite frankly I don’t really care.  I’d rather him come look at me for a treat or a game (again I didn’t just use food rewards) every so often than be off doing his own thing and completely ignoring me the way I see so many dogs doing and the way he used to do.  He does still do his own thing, sniffs and marks and does zoomies and splashes around in any water he comes across, he just keeps an eye on what I’m doing and gets rewarded for it.

Spencer is not perfect, I cannot guarantee he would recall from another dog at close range until he’d said hello and he is still managed in some situations with a long line or by being put on leash for a few minutes.  But we’re getting there.  I am comfortable letting him off leash on our usual walks, I don’t worry any more abut him disappearing over the horizon because he’s heard a dog bark or legging it off to visit with a dog half a mile away.  We go to meet ups most Sundays and he checks in with me of his own accord fairly regularly now rather than being so excited at the prospect of having other dogs to play with that he forgets all about me.  I’m not sure he’ll ever be one of those dogs who turns on a dime to come racing back the instant I call but I can live in hope.  After all, 12 months ago I wasn’t sure he’d ever be one of those dogs I’d be comfortable letting off leash unless I could see for miles around.

An excellent book, in my opinion, for anyone wanting a sort of step by step guide to working on recall would be Total Recall by Pippa Mattinson.  For those with dogs not known for being biddable When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion is an excellent read although not recall specific.  It’s also an excellent read for those with breeds generally classed as biddable, you just have to ignore the assumption that your dog simply hangs around waiting to be told what to do lol.

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The impact of dog attacks.

Not a happy, cheerful, light topic today I’m afraid but one that hits very close to home for me.  Dog on dog attacks and the effects they can have on the attacked dog AND on its owner.  Somebody I consider a friend despite the fact we have never met in person had one of her lovely dogs seriously injured by an out of control dog last week.  Physically he is healing well and will make a full recovery.  Psychologically…well he’s not doing so well there and has ended up medicated to help her work through this with him.  Her other dog was not hurt but it has also had an effect on him nonetheless.  I’ve been given permission to quote something she wrote so here it is

The Impact of a Dog Attack.

Last week the world of my two RRs and I was changed in the blink of an eye. On lead and under control they were attacked by a dog which had escaped it’s garden. My eldest dog was the target; luckily his leather collar bore the brunt of the first attack but he still suffered serious injuries to his neck, shoulder and stifle which required suturing under general anaesthetic. Whilst the physical injuries are healing well, the psychological impact on both dogs has hit us hard. The youngest dog is now wary of other dogs, but with plenty of positive experiences he is doing well. The eldest dog, who is by nature extremely sensitive, has fallen to pieces. Unable to relax at all at home in case he hears a dog bark or tags jingle and unable to walk beyond the confines of our drive he is on valium to at least give him a little respite.

The recovery process is hindered by the amount of uncontrolled dogs bounding up to us whilst my dogs are on leads. I don’t care whether or not someone shouts that their dog is friendly; as well as it being plain bad manners it sets any progress made back considerably. My plea to everyone is that, friendly or not, dogs are kept secured and handled responsibly.

With much love, patience and understanding I hope that one day I will be able to walk both dogs together again and without fear – which is now impossible in all but the most isolated of places – and that one day my sweet boy can learn that other dogs pose no threat.

The owners of the attacking dogs just want to forget about it and move on.  Which, in my experience, is a pretty typical response, people don’t want to think of their dog being likely to do something like this after all.  But should they just forget about it and move on?  This was not an argument between two dogs, this was not a noise and slobber no harm done these things happen type of thing.  This was an attack that caused serious harm to a much larger dog and could very easily have resulted in the death of a smaller dog.  Can something like that really be brushed under the carpet as though it never happened?  And even if it can, should it be?

I’ve been on both sides of this situation.  I’ve been the one whose dog was attacked by a dog hell bent on causing harm and, as a result of one too many attacks (serious ones and the sort of bully boy behaviour so many dogs seem to engage in) he became extremely dog aggressive himself.  Rupert did not give much warning before attacking.  He generally froze and then when the dog got close enough he would bite.  Hard.  And he would keep on attacking until forcibly removed.  For this reason Rupert wore a muzzle in public.  No, it’s not nice to have to hold your hands up, admit your dog is a danger to others and take measures to ensure it doesn’t hurt anybody or anything.  But surely precautions need to be taken when you own a dog who will carry out a sustained attack with no real provocation?

The physical effects of an attack are bad enough but they’re often the least of it.  The physical wounds heal much more quickly than the psychological ones do.  Especially if you have a dog who is rather sensitive and doesn’t just bounce back from unpleasant things happening to it.  It is absolutely heartbreaking to see your dog so terrified by the sight of another dog in the distance or the sound of tags jingling.  It’s soul destroying to know you’ve put in a hell of a lot of work to teach your dog to be a well mannered member of society and to see that all undone because of those who simply can’t be bothered to keep control of their dogs.  And to make matters even worse, when you’ve got a large dog nobody seems to take them being frightened seriously.  They laugh about it, especially when it’s their tiny little dog the big dog is frightened of.  They admire the attacking dog for being so “brave” or “game” as to take on a dog much larger than itself.  They tell you your dog just needs to man up and get over it.

And of course there’s the effect seeing your dog attacked has on you as the owner.  I will never forget Rupert fighting with the dog that attacked him.  I’m sure others will never forget the sight of their dog curled up in a ball on the ground, screaming and bleeding.  It’s not something you just “get over” really.  My heart still stops when I see a loose dog charging towards us.  I’m still terrified that the mutual sniffing when my dog meets a strange dog is going to suddenly become a pitched battle.  I do my best to control it knowing that me being tense and worried will make it more likely to escalate but it’s extremely difficult.  Even now that I have a friendly dog with good social skills.

It’s not just aggressive dogs who are a problem though.  I’ve actually had far more problems with out of control friendly dogs than I have with aggressive ones.  It seems that most of the dog owning population believe that because their dog is friendly it is perfectly acceptable for it to go rushing up to any dog it sees, jam its nose up their bottom, jump all over it and just generally make a nuisance of itself.  Never mind that the other dog may be dog aggressive, frightened of other dogs, elderly and infirm, recovering from surgery or whatever.  I used to call out to people to come get their dog as mine wasn’t friendly, most of them used to reply with something along the lines of “oh mine is” and just carry on walking.  Or they’d tell me that my vicious dog shouldn’t be out in public.  Bear in mind that I very rarely went to off leash areas with Rupert (and when we did it was late at night when nobody else was there), we mostly road walked.

There are a couple of campaigns I keep seeing pushed on places like Facebook and forums trying to promote responsible ownership.  I have to say I’m skeptical of ones like the yellow ribbon one  (if a muzzle and a clear verbal warning doesn’t have any effect what on earth will a ribbon do?) but I shall yet again share them in the hopes that the message may sink in one day.

There’s the Dogs In Need of Space site

And the UK version

There’s the yellow ribbon one too

And the article I would love to print out and stick to every tree and lamp post I can find, Suzanne Clothiers “He Just Wants to Say Hi”


Sadly dog attacks seem to be getting more and more common.  There seem to be more and more reactive dogs out there, more and more thoughtless owners who just let their dogs do as they please and to hell with others.  And on top of that dogs seem to be becoming welcome in fewer and fewer places which means they get less socialisation and are more likely to be a problem.  There are people who think it’s fine that their dog barks and snarls and snaps at people because it’s small and can’t do any harm.  People who think it fine for their dog to rush up to others barking and jumping all over them because it really “just wants to play”.  People who think that anyone who doesn’t like dogs or doesn’t want them jumping all over them shouldn’t go to a public park where dogs are allowed.  People who think that those who are frightened of dogs should just get a grip and get over their fears.  Is it really any wonder sometimes that dogs get such a bad rap?  Please folks, have a little respect and consideration for others.

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Let’s get back into this

Yes, I suck.  It’s been two months since I last posted on here.  I’m terrible at this blogging thing aren’t I?  So…what’s been happening?  Well not a whole lot really.  It’s been far too hot to really do much lately.  Walks have been taking place around 9pm which means I’m coming home in the dark but it’s just way too hot to walk during the day.  We’ve not really done a whole lot of training for the same reason.  Mostly work on loose leash walking, recall and playing 101 things to do with the benches outside the flat lol.

Spencer is definitely maturing though.  He’s gone from that rude, obnoxious dog other dogs tell to sod off to being very intolerant of rude, obnoxious behaviour himself.  How quickly they forget their own adolescent rudeness!  He’s still super friendly with other dogs in general, just will not stand there and take it when another dog jumps all over him, hangs off his ears, barks in his face or anything like that.  They get told in no uncertain terms to pack it in and mind their manners.  Then he’s perfectly fine with them so long as they do just that.  While he still thinks he should say hello to every dog we encounter he’s now much more picky about which dogs he’ll actually play with.  Most of the time he wants a sniff and to go about his own business.  Which is fine by me.  I do still have to watch for other dogs at close range but at least now I don’t have to worry so much that I’ll end up one of those red faced, horribly embarrassed owners trying to catch their dog while it has an absolute blast playing keep away.  He even checks in regularly while playing now.  Willow is the only one he will not recall from, everything else ceases to exist when Willow is around.

Adolescence seems to be well and truly over now.  Well it should be really, he was 2 in May!  He’s much more attentive, less inclined to go selectively deaf (I say less inclined, he still has his moments) and we’re reaching the point where I’m happy to let him off in more places and not panic if he gets more than a couple of metres away.   He is still a bit of an arse if my husband is with us though, he’ll revert to completely ignoring anything I say and just doing his own thing.

And I got a new camera, I can now take much better action shots and high definition video.  I still suck at photography though so don’t expect miracles lol.  So, here’s some pictures!

Trying out the new camera.  This is his oh so serious “I’m working” face.



Something a bit more playful.



Dignified?  Spencer?  Nah!



Some rough play


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And some gentle play



And just random Spendog shots

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