Recall going badly!

(17 Posts)
Crazyladee Sat 24-Nov-18 09:51:08

I have a six month old cocker spaniel puppy.

We started very early on practising recall training. After a lot of practice, we slowly and gradually built it up to having confidence to letting him off his lead completely and all was going well. No issues at all.

However, he has an unbelievable sense of smell, a lot stronger than any other spaniel we have owned.

The other week, I took him to our local country park with a friend and her cocker spaniel. We go there at least once a week. We normally park up in the car park and then about half an hours walk within the country park, we let them off their leads in an open field space for a good play and run around. He is generally well behaved. He has learned phrases that we use for "Come here right now and you will get a treat" and he always responds. All was going well until he put his head down and sprinted off. It was terrifying as he followed his own scent and sprinted off back to the car! I ran after him, shouting the key phrase, but he ignored me. Although he was fast, I finally luckily managed to get him back on his lead before any accidents happened.

The second time, my DH came with me. The plan was to set the scene with what happened the first time but this time, my DH purposely held back down the path to block him. With a plan in place, lots of treats in my pocket, I let him off in the open field. I was playing ball fetch with him. The problem seems to be that he is more interested in scents than his ball or anything else. Again after a few minutes he put his head down, picked up his own scent on the path and took off, sprinting back. This time, DH was there to leash him.

How do we deal with this? As I say, I have never known a dog to have such a strong sense of smell and somehow we need to out train the habit of picking up his own scent and retracing his steps.

OP’s posts: |
BiteyShark Sat 24-Nov-18 10:43:12

Is he a working cocker spaniel?

I have one and I was warned by farmers before we got him that where we live (in the forest) if he picked up the scent of a deer he would be off so we were warned grin.

At 6 months of age my dogs recall went from 100% to 0 as he started to hit the teenage phase. It didn't really come back until he was almost 1 year old.

Do you have any gun dog trainers near you. Unlike 'general' dog trainers I found them invaluable as they live and breath working dogs, especially spaniels. Their advice was to actually stop walking and start working with your dog which by the sounds of it you are trying to do.

This meant not letting them get too far from you because as a spaniel they are breed to work in a close area so if they go to far and pick up a scent you have probably lost control by then. Also working with them meant each 'walk' was actually playing hide and seek, finding (hunting) and throwing (chasing) a ball.

I have to say at first I used to simply walk and try and be unpredictable but once I stopped doing that and started to embrace the hunting instincts it got better, although maturity did obviously help as he grew up and started listening again.

Mine will simply not take any food when outside as that is so boring. I could be dangling a succulent steak and he wouldn't be interested. If yours likes to hunt have you thought about hiding his ball in some long grass and giving him a command to 'find it'. We did this at home and then built it up outside and he loves it. The nice thing is that often they need your help so I also have a command when he is close to finding his ball which he knows means to get his nose to the floor and really sniff it out as I am telling him it's near by. These are all little things I got from my dog gun training sessions.

Crazyladee Sat 24-Nov-18 12:44:51


He's not a working cocker, he's a show cocker - a Blue Roan.

I'm not sure whether there are an gun dog trainers locally although I will have a look and do a bit of research. Does the fact that he isn't a working cocker change things?

OP’s posts: |
BiteyShark Sat 24-Nov-18 12:46:03

Not really except that the working one has usually been breed specifically for a good hunting nose. Although show cockers aren't meant to be as bad I still think they can show similar traits.

totallyliterally Sat 24-Nov-18 12:54:57

We reverted back to a long line with our spaniel at that age. She went deaf and it felt like all the training we had done was totally forgotten.

But took chicken out and constantly when out got her coming back for treats and praise. And if she did take a little longer to recall was still greater with same praise and treats. It is utterly frustrating!

Now at 18 months, and since abut 9 months recall is back. And I'd never say it is 100% as I don't think you can but she now automatically checks in and looks for me and comes back.

But I loved the long line when she was a pup and beyond. It just gives that extra security and I think she also felt somewhat attached (even though we weren't holding it)

Vallahalagonebutnotforgotten Sat 24-Nov-18 17:40:10

The problem most people have with recall is that they do not proof it enough before they use it in an area of high distraction.

Most people also rely on operant conditioning whereas classical conditioning is a more powerful tool for recall.

You are working towards getting an automatic response to a word despite everything else going on.

People are told to make themselves more interesting - if a spaniel has a scent there is nothing more interesting so the best treats, toys in the world will make no difference. However if classical conditioning is used this will override other distractions.

SO how do you do this smile - this is when having a good breeder is important. If the breeder had blown a whistle every time the puppy ate by the time the puppy was 8 weeks old and going to their new home most of the work would already be done! You would have a pavlo dog reaction to the whistle.

You can start this now and it will take time but if you persevere you will totally crack recall in all situations.

Choose your recall word or whistle - without fail blow the whistle for every meal. Just toot the whistle and immediately give the food. would break this down into several toots per meal. Stand next to your dog do not expect him to come to you .,Just toot and feed. Do this several times a day but always when close to the dog.

During this time do NOT give your dog the opportunity to run off on walks, do not recall on walks either keep on a lead or walk in a secure place and finish the walk when the dog comes back to you.

Overtime you can add distance between you and the dog but remember every time you whistle you must treat. I would be doing this many many times a day.

If you are consistent you can start to add in distraction but do this slowly and gradually.

Problems you could have are:

Dog being scared of the whistle - change to a word
Upping the distractions too soon- just be patient
Getting bored and thinking it will not work – it will but it does need a bit of effort!

BiteyShark Sat 24-Nov-18 18:10:36

People are told to make themselves more interesting - if a spaniel has a scent there is nothing more interesting so the best treats, toys in the world will make no difference.

Not true. My spaniel loves his ball much more than chasing deer scent. As long as I waggle his ball in front of him we can walk past a group of deer even though he can smell them.


Vallahalagonebutnotforgotten Sat 24-Nov-18 19:39:08

You are lucky Biteythat the greater motivator for your dog is a tennis ball rather than a scent - as you are always saying all dogs are different grin

What if you wanted to get your dog off focusing on the ball.........

BiteyShark Sun 25-Nov-18 06:04:35

I am lucky in that I have a typical ball obsessed cocker. For recall and running off that was the game changer.

What if you wanted to get your dog off focusing on the ball......... I pick it up and put it in my pocket.

startingafresh1 Sun 25-Nov-18 07:22:00

Ideally you need to find a motivator which your dog adores more than anything else. Common ones being a treat (which you've tried and Isn't working), a ball, a rope, or a a scent toy.

A gun dog trainer may well be able to help you hone your dog's love of this treat.

Please please please look for a gun DogTrainer who uses force free methods as IMO they are often one of the final groups of Dog specialists to let go of old fashioned forceful training methods which are now seen as cruel and unnecessary. The first one we saw recommended scruffing, ear twisting and holding a dog down until it submitted- we left after 10 minutes.

We eventually took our Labrador to a force free gun dog trainer. He is now so 'in love' with a game dummy that he ignores all treats in favour of this toy- which is impressive for a Labrador. If we have this dummy and he thinks there is the slightest chance of being allowed to play 'find it' or 'fetch it' his recall is 100%- in fact he would do anything for it. He lives and breathes to play with this toy!

startingafresh1 Sun 25-Nov-18 07:24:19

Bitey I have to admit I've not had enough success in stopping out Dog focusing on the dummy. Putting it in my pocket doesn't work- he then spends most of his time with his head glued to my leg, hoping, praying to get it back. That bit is a shame as I feel it means he's not really enjoying the rest of the walk.

BiteyShark Sun 25-Nov-18 07:36:07

startingafresh1 I understand what you mean.

BiteyDog is always by me hoping I will get the ball out again. However, he goes on different walks at daycare with other dogs when he spends his time playing with them so he gets a variety of walks in the week.

On our walks I try and incorporate lots of hiding and finding the ball so he gets to use his brain and nose which tires him out. He's so fit right now (daycare with two walks and agility has done that) that actually normal walking with me does nothing for him and he just comes home still understimulated. I also make him work for his ball so I am trying to build up the number of tricks he needs to do before the ball comes out my pocket.

I do miss the concept of nice long strolling walks with my dog by my side but it was a matter of embracing his hunting instinct to work with it or stressing over him running off to hunt by himself.

Booboostwo Sun 25-Nov-18 08:44:58

Sound so like you need a long line and to go back to basics, I.e recall game in a safe space and repeat recalls while backing up. The long line is a huge hassle, it takes week to work, but generally it works well (assuming you keep up the signal/reward sequence during the long lining and all other recall strengthening exercises).

It is more difficult when you are working against the dog’s instincts but it is possible. I have a JRT who had a very good recall until 4yo when we moved to a new house surrounded by trees and, horror of horrors, squirrels. The squirrels drove him mad. I had to long line him at 4yo (we were both suitably embarrassed) but a month later he was back into his good habits.

Babyroobs Mon 26-Nov-18 11:46:20

We have a working cocker spaniel who is 15 months now and recall still not good. On this mornings walk he disappeared into thick undergrowth and I was frantically shouting him for a good 5 minutes or so before he appeared, he does not listen at all. Yesterday he ran to play with another spaniel who was off lead ( so I thought that was fine) but this horrible couple had another dog on lead and the owner was terribly verbally aggressive making all sorts of threats, it was horribly upsetting. I think I am going to find a gun dog trainer to work on his recall. I am feeling like I made huge mistake getting him, he is a lovely dog but too much for me to cope with.

BiteyShark Mon 26-Nov-18 18:18:08

Babyroobs totally sympathise. At one time I honestly contemplated paying someone to walk BiteyDog every day as I couldn't take the stress. Definitely look for some gundog trainers and hang in there wine

Floralnomad Mon 26-Nov-18 19:14:23

Sometimes I think you need to think a bit differently about how to do things . My patterdale x will not recall at all , it was never going to happen for various reasons so I taught him a solid down and a solid wait command so if I want him back or to stop I just call down and that’s what he does and then waits for me to catch him up . Wait is also very useful to stop him going too far ahead or around corners without me .

Babyroobs Mon 26-Nov-18 19:33:22

Thanks Bitey - It's reassuring to know I am not the only one struggling. Most of his walks are ok but I have to do two long dog walks a day as it's just too stressful trying to cope with my young cocker and my older dog. Most other dog owners are lovely and say how lovely he is when he is enthusiastically heading towards them, today I had three comments on how lovely he is etc but yesterdays incident has really knocked my confidence. He always eventually comes back, he just takes his time but I feel panicky.

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