(Less Than) Total Recall

We regularly work on “core” obedience with Beanie: sit, down, wait, walking to heel etc, but the biggest chunk of training time is always devoted to recall. Up to a few weeks ago, it was pretty much 100%. We could impress even seasoned dog owners by calling her back from any situation. Even if she’d got out of sight round a corner or over the brow of a hill, a loud assertive “Beanie! Come” would always result in a little furry bullet shooting towards us.

Lately though Beanie’s recall has become much less reliable, probably due to her growing confidence and increasing sniffing abilities. She doesn’t run as fast when we call her, and sometimes she seems to deliberately ignore the command – especially if she’s playing with other dogs.

To combat this we’ve been trying a range of different exercises/games to make being returning to us more fun and interesting:

1) Beagle Tennis. Susan and I position ourselves at different ends of the house, each armed with a toy and plenty of treats. One of us engages Beanie in vigorous play, then after a few seconds the other summons her, gives her a big treat and gets her playing again. We keep swapping roles, getting her to dash between us over and over again. Of course even in her excited state Beanie eventually realizes what’s happening and tries to eliminate the parts of the exercise that doesn’t involve food. She snatches the treat from the current caller then immediately sprints back to the other for another serving.

2) Hide and seek. This is one for the park. One of us hides behind a tree while the other encourages Beanie to find them and get a really tasty treat as reward. To help her succeed, the hider makes a noise or waves an arm. On a good day this works great – after a few repetitions it’s obvious that she’s watching both of us like a hawk, and pretty soon you can’t make it to your chosen hiding place without having to step over a hungry, expectant Beagle. Sometimes though it doesn’t go quite as planned. More than once I’ve been left standing behind a tree with a stupid grin on my face while Beanie decides that she’s had enough of playing with us and would rather get some wrestling practice with a nearby terrier.

3) Tracking foundations. This is kind of like hide and seek except that one of us holds on to Beanie, while the “hider” dangles the treat in front of her to get her attention. The hider then runs off making sure that Beanie can see roughly where they’re going. Ideally, Beanie will get some of the way there on memory, and then have to engage her tracking ability to find the exact hiding place and get her treat. Currently Beanie’s not too good at this one, and I’m becoming convinced that Beanie’s nose is faulty. Sure, she uses it a lot, running around sniffing with her head to the ground, but I think it’s all show. Quite often I can drop a treat on the floor right in front of her and she’ll take a good thirty seconds to find the damn thing. What’s more, if her nose is so good, how come she has to stick it right up another dog’s bum in order to get a good whiff of Channel Number Two?

On top of this, we’ve been getting lots of great recall exercises at Beanie’s training classes, Dalmeny Dog Training run by Jacquie Clark. Although quite a few people attend the classes, Jacquie still manages to address each dog’s own set of problem areas, and last time she helped us out by getting us to call Beanie while she was playing with her favorite sparring partner, Toby the Border Terrier. As soon as I issued the command, our little rascal shot off in the direction of Toby’s owners. Didn’t even spare me a glance! Toby subsequently returned the favor by running over to us. Clearly those two pups are conspiring against us.

Other than that, Beanie’s obedience is generally improving. She’ll often respond to “leave”, and we can now get her walking to heel reasonably well with the “close” command, so long as we’ve got plenty of treats. There are still times when extreme measures are required to restore order though. A drinks bottle filled with noisy coins sometimes does the job, although increasingly she just tries to play with it, no matter how loudly I thump it on the floor. Right now, a quick spray of water is our weapon of last resort, and generally it’s used to protect what’s left of the baby gate we’ve got to seal off our stairs. This is what a few minutes of determined Beagle chewing can do:

Beanie's latest chew toy

And I should also confess that we’re not too good at keeping Beanie off the bed. I try to be strict but, well, she’s just too cute: