How possible is it to REALLY train a rescue dog?(21 Posts)
Or any dog that is no longer in the puppy stage!
We recently rescued a 5 year old dog. I love her. She's bloody wonderful and already I can't remember how I coped in a house with just one dog for company before she came!
She came to us with supposedly excellent recall, and after about the first week of settling her in, she did seem to respond really well to being called. I also introduced the whistle (so she had the same recall signal as our other dog) and she picked it up amazingly quick.
Only, I think I've gone wrong somewhere because she now only comes to the whistle 50% of the time. I'm not sure if she's just getting more confident in our surroundings now, or if I need to start training again.
I've found her 'holy grail' of rewards (a squeaky ball) but even today after not having the ball all week (after losing it in the sea!) she just wasn't interested and wanted to sniff out everything else on our walk.
I've noticed her getting bored too (she's a cocker) so have started making meal times into a game to keep her mind busy. She gets tonnes of physical exercise, but I think she needs mental stimulation just as much. I'm also wondering if that's why she's not responding to recall - because she's bored/frustrated?
Anyway, it's clear I need to think up some other kinds of games to do with her during the day, and try again with the recall, but is it possible to ever get to the point of trusting recall to the point of letting her off lead where we are likely to meet other dogs?
It's totally possible to train a dog of any age. Recall the dog and offer treats when it comes back to you. Repeat tons of times. Gradually reduce the amount that you give treats from every time the dog listens to just sometimes when it comes back to you. The dog will always come back just in case it will be getting a treat this time, it's not going to risk ignoring you (unless there is a squirrel, then you're stuffed).
Cockers need loads of mental stimulation, stuffed kongs and games of fetch are helpful.
We play fetch a lot, but she seems to get bored of that pretty quick. She likes it when I throw something in longer grass that she can't see and she has to sniff out, though. And she likes sniffing out her kibble in the garden or wrapped up in a towel or similar.
I find that when we're out walking, she seems to self-reward herself with following the scents of wildlife that have obviously passed over the ground. I don't know how to be more appealing than that!
For recall you have to find the alpha treat - for mine, it's cheese cut into tiny cubes (I mix it with tiny cubes of toast to make it go further). Then every single time they come back, you reward with the uber treat. That's the only time they get it. And then you start to fade it out, but always have it with you. Keep her on her toes.
Lonny that's what I've been doing, with the squeaky ball being the 'major' treat, and her only getting that when the whistle is blown and no other times. Following scent trails is still more exciting!
Another thing is you have to train her to recall with distractions. You start with mild distractions then build up.
Are you sure she likes the squeaky ball more than a food reward?
Yes, definitely Mini - she climbs on the dining table to find her ball! Her foster mum found the same - she likes food but nowhere near to the extent she loves that ball. I have also tried with food and that's when it all went pear shaped, and now she won't come for anything!
Sounds like she relegated the 'major' treat down a few levels even though you didn't overuse it. Major treats do have to change on a frequent basis for some dogs.
I'm sure you are also careful never to tell her off even if she takes ages to return - heap up the praise and sometimes small treats even when she comes close to you on walks and 'jackpot' her with a large amount if she comes straight away.
Always walk round the park different ways, change direction a lot, hide behind trees etc, call her back after different lengths of time. Practice in the garden and house - sounds like she doesn't think you're the greatest thing ever atm - you've got to be more exciting than anything else she might come across - you just need to mix it up a bit so she remembers again.
I find dog training so hard! I'm sat here feeling a bit weepy that I seemed to have ruined a dog that came to us with lovely recall and who now couldn't care less if I'm on the walk with her or not. I think I need to find a professional, except she is quite shouty to other dogs occasionally so I guess one-to-one is all we can do really? Goodbye money...
I would put her in a harness and longline.
She may have got used to getting too far away from you, and the further she gets the more exciting it gets for her. Keep her closer - whistle, and if she doesn't come you reel her in on the longline. And repeat.
Even if she's not overly food motivated if she is nose-led she will absolutely know if you are carrying something like roast liver/garlic sausage/salami.
As others have said, you really have to make yourself the most exciting person in the world
and hope noone else is around while you jump about like a loon praising her in silly voices
Reinforce your whistle at home, even in the house and garden, whistle for meal times, getting in the car...reward every time.
Once in a while when she comes back you can sprinkle loads of treats on the grass around your feet - again something strong smelling like liver chopped in crumb size pieces. This has the advantage of keeping her at your feet for longer and creating a 'bonus prize' for a good recall.
Spaniels are tough, but you'll get there!
Another thing - when you are training her recall (with treats or ball) make sure you let her go again/release her otherwise she will associate the ball/treats with the end of fun. It is possible that the ball has become 'tainted' when you're outside if its use means she has to go on the lead.
When I was recall training my dog I found it really useful to hire a secure dog walking field. There's a brilliant facebook page called something like 'secure dog walking fields' where you'll almost certainly be able to find one near you. It means you can take the dog through all the stages of recall training (on a long line, without long line, with distractions etc) without the fear!
Ah no, she doesn't go on the lead when I call her back for her ball. I learnt that with dog number 1. We are lucky in that we have lots of private land of our own which we use, but because no one else walks on that land, the scents of wild animals are indisturbed and hence ultra exciting.
She may also respond to you running in the opposite direction squeaking the ball as go. ( takes confidence to do, but it can work)
I really don't think you've done anything wrong with your dog. When I got my 3 year old rescue lurcher she was very focused on where I was at all times and had great recall. Once she gained some confidence and realised I wasn't going to leave her it regressed quite a lot. It did come right again with time. Just keep being consistent with what you're doing.
Dogs are so forgiving op - you can always get back what you think you might have lost - its just a question of coming up with a different approach.
[never use a shouty trainer - you want a trainer who works in partnership with the dog - giving the dog active choices - just the same as kids.]
Consider getting the great book 'Train your dog like a Pro' by Jean Donaldson. The recall section is completely brilliant and works like a dream.
Forgive yourself - just like your dogs do - remember its often 2 steps forward, 64 back, 39 forward so be really kind to yourself when it seems its not working - sometimes that happens moments before it does all begin to work.
Always work on training when you are feeling positive and don't worry about doing anything if you are too concerned. There's always another day.
We've not fully managed recall with any of our rescue woods, but the old man lab is that obsessed with me that creatures can run past and he won't chase, I can throw a stick/tennis ball/anything and he'll still be at my side. If he's off lead and realises he's more than a metre away then he panics and comes lolloping straight back. He had no training before - he was a builders yard dog - so that's definitely since he's come to us.
The 3 others have been pretty good at everything. Two were ok at recall but I'd never 100% trust them. One was permanently on lead unless we could see that it was safe (or in an enclosed area and alone). One is perfect at everything apart from 'drop' if she has something in her mouth - her chewing speeds up.
Thank you for your kind comments. I really worked myself up last night over it and then decided I think we will just go right back to basics. Start putting the harness back on to stop the pulling, and walking with the longline again.
I will have a look at that Jean Donaldson book. I was using Total Recall, but because I used it with our other dog, I think maybe I've lost focus with that one and need something new to read.
Thank you all it's not easy this dog ownership thing, is it?!
Have a look at Total Recall by Pippa Mattinson. She’s a gundog trainer and so a lot of her stuff is geared towards spaniels- who can be tricky with a recall!
I wouldnt feel bad, you haven’t ruined her. It actually shows she trusts you and has confidence in you. That’s why she didn’t go far to start with when she didn’t know you so well.
You’ve identified she needs mental stimulation and that’s the key. Rather than fetch, teach her find it. Make her sit/down and wait while you hide it somewhere. Teach impulse control so that she’ll wait while you throw it, or you can make her sit/down stand before she reaches the ball.
I take tennis balls with me during a walk, and constantly work mine. That’s what spaniels are bred for, and if she doesn’t get the ‘work’ from you, she’ll give herself something to do!
Think about dog sports like canicross, agility, flyball etc which are more mentally demanding.
Pippa Mattinson also has lots of forums and writes articles. Have a look at one called something like Why not to walk a spaniel. It basically explains that spaniels don’t tend to enjoy just a walk, and you need to keep them busy by asking them to do things (there are exceptions of course, but I’ve never met one!!)
Sorry just seen you have total recall, so ignore that, but do have a look at the article about walking spaniels, I found it really helped me understand why mine felt the need to bugger off l the time!!
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