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Recall problems with my 5 month old

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Hello everyone,


We seem to be having a problem with recalling our border collie girl of 5 months.


We started recall training when we got her at 8 weeks, starting out with hand targeting, expanded that to hand targeting from bigger distances, etc. to the point where she did pretty well off leash (pretty standard for very young puppies that seek safety of course)


But the last month and a half she's ignoring us completely when she's of leash, not only that, she bolts away. Two weeks ago on the beach we had to wait 30 minutes before she came back, every time she got close she bolted away again.


Just this morning we went for a walk in the park, half way in, she bolted back towards the car (which was a quarter mile away). And when I say she ignores us, I mean: she doesn't even move her ears towards me. We've also noticed she tends to jump to the end of the leash, sort of a jerk move to try to get loose and get away.


She's not deaf, she is whip smart, she knows the cue. I've tried every high value treat out there. From dried sardines to fresh chicken, and the stinkiest cheese I could find. She is toy motivated but that doesn't really work either. I can stand there with a toy yodelling away but she never returns :D


She hasn't hit puberty yet, so I'm kind of anxious what will happen with her recall behaviour when she's like this already. Right now I'll just keep her on a long field leash, but I hate that, I want her to be able to run free of course.


Do I have to focus more on attention training? what do I do here?









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Just last night I googled recall training fr hours because my donkey of a dog completely ignored me as we were about to head inside. Neighborhood dog was out and he was in a running frenzy back and forth on the gate, trying to get to the dog. Completely frustrated, I just let him run his course until he settled down because I didn't know what else to do. I came across this though...


"When a puppy doesn’t come when called, you need to recognize that the puppy is not trained. An untrained dog won’t come when called. And your puppy isn’t an adult. It is impossible for a puppy to be reliably obedient.


It is impossible to lay enough groundwork with a puppy to ever expect a reliable Come command. Coming when called is one of the most difficult commands to teach, because it requires good technique and an excellent relationship with your dog.


Think on this. Dogs are not entered into obedience competition until they are at least 2 years old. And that is after many months of competition. Police dogs are at least 2 1/2 years old before they are used on the street. Same with guide dogs, competitive hunting dogs, and so forth. Obedience is a combination of a lot of good training in the real world, and a result of maturity. There is no 6 month old puppy excelling in any obedience event anywhere in the world. The older, better trained dogs, will always do better. That’s why ALL reputable dog trainers, and ALL reputable dog events require dogs to be at least 18 months to 2 years of age before they are allowed to show their skills.


So, there is no way that a puppy will reliably come when called. It isn’t possible. Lighten up on your puppy. It is too soon to expect that kind of performance. And you are not being fair to your dog."

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Don't take this in the wrong way, but YOU are boring - when training your dog. I am not only pointing the finger at you, but at me and other dog trainers that 'stand there' with a treat and expect your pup to come every time. I often remind myself about the fact that I was boring and resolve to be betters in the next training session.


First, as intronaut says, 5 months old is still a very YOUNG puppy. She is just beginning to realize that there are other great things in the world other than you. So YOU have to be even more interesting than you have been before. Running free has become MUCH more reinforcing than returning to you.


One. Put her on a long line. 20 or 30 or even 40-50 feet. I have a couple of lengths depending on what stage of training. Don't expect to take her outside without a long line attached for at least a couple of months, and maybe more depending on how reliable she becomes. Any time she blows you off, just means that she is not well trained enough so the long line is still needed. And yes, it is a pain to deal with a long line all the time, but recall training is so important that you can't hope for maybe 50% success.


Two: become EXCITING. It appears that treats, even high value treats, are less reinforcing than running free at this time.


"I can stand there with a toy yodelling away but she never returns." Standing = boring


Start with your pup close and play with a toy. Get her really excited. Then run away from her (maybe 10 feet, and if she runs with you that's fine too) calling her name and shaking the toy. When she comes (and remember she is on a long line so she can not blow you off), play with her. Keep training sessions short, but playful - with a pup of this age.


You can also jackpot her (giving multiple treats in rapid sequence) when she comes to you.


Obviously as she becomes more reliable, you can cut back on the running, excitement, etc., but she needs to develop a habit that she always comes back when you call.


Gotta run - will check back later and possibly expand on my advice if needed.

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I do agree a pup is not "trained" and their attention span can be short and let them be a pup ect. BUT if you ask your dog to do something - anything and ALLOW it not to do it you are teaching it 1- you do not mean what you say, 2 - they can Ignore you, 3- disobeying has no consequences ....


I try very hard to never say /ask something I am not in a position to make happen with pups. That way they never learn it is ok to not do it or do not have to listen till I have said it three times. Say what you mean and mean what you say - the first time. If that takes a long line and reeling her in when you ask her to recall so be in. I try always to encourage them them to come when called.

I think most young dog reach a stage, maybe a couple of them where they test the waters to see just what the rules are. My bitches always seem to do this early and typically take more convincing that I am indeed serious.


I would correct the leash pulling or jerking, I think it is a symptom of her general attitude that she wants to do as she pleases. I feel it is disrespectful. I may even curtail her general free time if she were blowing me off. make her ask for things and realize you are the provider of all good things. If you crate train before she goes outside or plays ask for her to sit and be petted, make her acknowledge you not just race out past you on her own agenda. Little adjustments can make a huge difference

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Ok this is perfect. Thank you guys so much for your elaborate input.


I guess it is very much a mindset thing and while I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that I can't ask this of a 5 month old, I do want to know if there's anything I can do to get her to the point of safely letting her off leash.


So, I'll use our long leashes from now on. We have one that's 45ft. As GVC-Border said, it feels indeed like I'm too boring for her and I'm something to 'deal with' from time to time. What do I do when she is ignoring me completely even if I run around and try to make me super interesting for her? Do I just ignore her until her attention comes back to me and engage again?


Denice, you're absolutely right, the leash thing (and several other things) is kind of an attitude problem. I train her to be patient when going out the door by making her do a sit-stay, and when she rushes out, the door gets closed again and we take it from the top. However, I'm not sure if I'm correcting in the right way when she does this, or pulls outside. My strategy is this: when she pulls, but there is nothing specifically she wants to go to, I stand still, wait for her to come by my side and then walk again. If there is a kid or a dog she wants to go to and she pulls, I walk the other direction. However, in both strategies, she ends up right by my side, we walk, and she runs to the end of the leash again. I of course reinforce good behaviour. Anything I should be doing differently?


Thanks again for your help. It's very valuable!

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My strategy is this: when she pulls, but there is nothing specifically she wants to go to, I stand still, wait for her to come by my side and then walk again. If there is a kid or a dog she wants to go to and she pulls, I walk the other direction. However, in both strategies, she ends up right by my side, we walk, and she runs to the end of the leash again. I of course reinforce good behaviour. Anything I should be doing differently?


Thanks again for your help. It's very valuable!

This video might be helpful for your leash walking problem. I personally don't like to just wait for the pup to figure out where to be on a leash. If they go forward, I like to gently walk backwards calling them in a calm 'let's go' voice, clicking at the moment their mind chooses to turn towards me (not me pulling on the leash), when they get to my side and again when we start moving together in the same direction. Keeping things moving and fluid in leash training sets up a more positive experience for me. I get frustrated quickly by just standing and waiting. If the pups brain is really not with you (they're distracted), I like to ask for something else-long sit or down, then start moving again when they're more focused.


I have never used the suggestions she makes in the below video but thought it might help you.

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I believe any correction is get the dog to stop the action it was corrected for and to THINK and look to you asking What do you want. If the correction does not accomplish those things the dog did not process it as a correction. Makes little difference what we think if it was or was not a correction - it matters what the dog thought. My goal is to raise/train/interact with the dogs in such a way that I only need a voice correction. Some dogs need a physical disruption in addition to the voice correction - that could be just stepping in front of them. Some are so focused they do not hear you. I try a hand clap or whistle or something to get their attention.


With leash walking I do not just stop I correct the dog for pulling and turn sharply another direction and start walking. We do not go from point A to point B. I allow the dog to be in front of me as long as they do not pull walking on a very loose line. As soon as they pull I change direction it is very unpredictable path do the dogs start looking to me for direction and information where WE are going instead of set on a path where They are going. I can usually change that behavior in 5 min with an older pup/dog by doing this. I tend to simply use encouragement and praise and correction not treats.


As the dog tunes in to me I allow more freedom. Hopefully you have a fenced in safe area where she can run and play and be a dog but you can ask you to come back to you and go get her when she does not. With my first bc I lived on a cattle ranch and would often tie a long line to my waist when I was walking fence lines, fixing fence out in the pastures ect. This taught him he had to stay rather close, could sniff and explore some but had to recall each time I called. He grew into a dog that would go run and play but check in with me every few minutes on his own. He would come up I would talk to him then tell him he could go play again. I used Here for him to come ALL the Way to me so I could get my hands on him. Other times I used that is far enough so he wouldn't get farther away from me or lets go meaning we are headed over here but you do not have to come all the way back.


I want my dogs checking in and asking me what we are doing or if they can go play, I want/need to be the most important thing in their world since we are often out in pastures working. I am most likely boring, do not act silly or give yummy treats. I simply ask for what I want and expect them to it. I do not ask if I am unwilling to follow through. I think many problems arise when the dog decides it does not need you and there are no consequences to them ignoring you. I do not make myself more important by bribing them but by waiting for them to ask for things - I am the way to all good things.

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Regarding the recalls, specifically, what are you doing to build:


Response to your recall cue

Behavior that you want once she recalls (come to you to put on a leash, etc.)


A. On a daily basis indoors?

B. On a daily basis outdoors in a small area where she has fewer choices?


That is where I would be focusing my work with a young puppy. Not "bribing", but actually teaching your puppy that responding to the recall is a very good thing, and that whatever you do when she gets to you is a very good thing.


I would continue this work well into the first year with a young dog. If you do a little work in low-criteria situations and then move it to the big-time and never go back to the basics with a young dog, it is very likely to fall apart.

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I am a fan of long lines, because even the most compliant agreeable dog is distractable and you can't always control the environment. My young Papillon wore one for 18 months because he was so inconsistent and I simply did not want him to practice things that I didn't want him to do, and also he was getting a little weird and averse to me reaching for him to attach a leash at times and I didn't like that either. Mostly he just dragged behind him. The long line allowed me to prevent him from running off and collect him when needed without the pressure and stress of me grabbing for him (which we worked on separately, and was more successful because I did not end up grabbing for him outside of training).


I also did a lot of praise, pet and treats for checking in on me and did a lot of recalls while on it. If he was distracted by something else a whistle broke into his brain better than me calling him by name, and movement AWAY from what he was distracted by tends to get a quicker response. The act of coming in, getting rewarded and then being allowed to run again is a powerful thing, imo. Coming when called does not always mean fun is over. Paying attention to human is often worth it. Also for him, he is a little obsessed with his favorite toy, so as he would come in close to me I would turn and throw it, resulting in an emotional arousal equal to or greater than whatever distracted him.


I suggest attaching your long line to a back hook harness so that if it gets hung up on something and when you step on it she won't get her neck yanked, and also, if its dragging DON"T GRAB IT because it will hurt your hands! Step on it first!

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OH! Something else that I do with recalls that can really be helpful is that I actually train it as an opposite behavior. I teach send aways and recalls. This can be a send to a bowl with treats in it. It can be a send to a toy. It can be a send to a different person. It can be a send to a target.

But, my dogs learn, "go" and "return".

And that also really helps their recalls. I find that training opposite skills is often highly effective.

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She is a baby. She has the attention span of a hamster. And the big, wide world is infinitely more interesting than you. Think of the world as a circus and your puppy as a 4 year old - there's just no way she's going to be mindful and obedient with balloons and clowns and circus animals everywhere she goes. :P Furthermore, it's going to stay that way for several months to come.

Be patient and set her up to win. The advice you've gotten is good. Use a long line, (love the harness idea) and work on recalls in confined places where she can't get away and be patient. There's a good reason people don't start "real" training with pups until 10 months old or better. Hope the answers you've gotten here will be good help!

~ Gloria

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