Training a dog to have perfect recall is all well and good when it's just the two of you in your house, garden or out on a walk. But what do you do with a dog who ignores you the moment one of his own kind comes in to the equation? Ben Randall explains more.
One of the greatest pleasures of dog ownership is knowing that you have a happy and well-socialised pooch, who loves nothing more than running around and playing nicely with other dogs. Indeed, their sheer joy and exuberance, complete with rapidly wagging tails, is so joyful and uplifting that it really can cheer the soul.
But what do you do when they get so excited about their impromptu game of tag with their canine pals that your usually highly responsive charge goes tone deaf? What if they refuse to respond to your increasingly frantic exhortations for them to come back?
This is exactly the scenario facing L.M., who has written to us via firstname.lastname@example.org to ask how to deal with her Border terrier, a nicely-trained young dog with the unfortunate inclination to ignore the recall command when he’s having fun with other dogs.
I have a one-year-old Border terrier, who I have trained carefully from the beginning. He knows all the basic commands, such as ‘heel’, ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘down’, plus a few extra tricks, as he likes to learn new things. When we’re outside, he stays close to me, his recall (I use a dog whistle) is good and he comes back reliably — except when he is playing with other dogs. In contrast, he’s totally fine and well behaved when we walk past other dogs and will happily sit quietly at my side when other dogs and their owners walk past us.
However, once he starts playing off the lead with other dogs, he seems to ignore me completely and I don’t think he would even notice if I walked away! I want him to play with other dogs, because he enjoys it so much, but I also find it stressful and frustrating. Any suggestions on how I can solve this and how to control him at a distance would be most welcome. Thank you in advance! — L.M. via email
I own a Border terrier — known in our house as Lady Tweed — who is now nine years old. Without being biased, she is as intelligent and human as a dog can possibly be — and as we have two sons, my wife, Nikki, treats her like the daughter she never had. Tweed was trained using my proven BG Foundations — which are all positive, rewards-based methods. By rewarding — and not bribing — our dogs, we have developed mutual respect with all of our dogs (we also have a Bavarian Mountain Hound, Roe, and a Labrador, Nell, in the house), which means that their trust in and bond with all members of the family is very strong.
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So, for example, if we were out on a walk and saw other dogs approaching, a slight change of tone, giving the ‘leave’ command and saying Tweed’s name as a recall command, along with three pips on my Acme whistle, is all it would take for her to understand that those instructions mean that she needs to ‘leave’ potential danger or excitement and return quickly to us.
I’ve been perfecting my BG (Beggarbush) foundation methods for nearly 20 years and understand that even experienced dog owners come up against issues that they are not sure how to handle. However, with a little patience and consistent retraining, you will soon have your Border terrier racing back to you each and every time, no matter how many dogs or other distractions there are around. You can learn more via @beggarbush on Instagram and my dog-training app (this link will let you get a free trial) or ask me your own question by emailing email@example.com.
Ben’s top tips for stopping your dog ignoring you when he’s playing with other dogs:
1. Limit interaction on walks and, initially, keep your dog on a lead
One of my pet hates is going for a country walk with my family and dogs and meeting other dog owners who think it is acceptable to allow their dogs to run uncontrollably, meeting and greeting other people and their dogs at will, with no control or consideration whatsoever. In my view, this is ill mannered and shows little respect for other people’s space and their dogs, particularly if they are on a lead.
I always think it’s best for your dog to meet other dogs when they are all on leads, whilst introducing yourself to the owners. Then, potentially, allowing the dogs to have some social interaction — either off or on the lead, depending on how well-trained the dogs are.
2. Get real about how good your dog’s recall actually is
In your letter, you mention that your dog understands and usually listens to your commands, unless he’s faced with more exciting distractions, such as the prospect of free play with other dogs. This unfortunately means that his response to your commands is not as good as you think it is and your dog’s trust in and mutual respect for you is most definitely not yet at the standard that you are aspiring to.
When you take your Border terrier to busy places where you’re likely to see lots of people and dogs — and before you let him off the lead — be brutally honest and ask yourself whether or not he is ready for this, and whether you have the control you need to keep him safe? If you have any doubts at all, then your dog is not ready to be off the lead in this sort of scenario.
Because the trouble is, if — as you have been doing in a well-meaning way — you regularly allow your dog to run, chase and play with other dogs while ignoring your recall command and whistle, you are inadvertently reinforcing this undesirable behaviour.
3. Use food treats sparingly, as a reward for good behaviour and not as a bribe
You say he knows a few dog tricks, as he likes to learn new things. I’m not saying this is the case with you; but, usually, most of my clients tend to teach tricks using bribery. However, as I have said many times before, bribing a dog or a human to encourage them to complete a task — especially if it is not done correctly — tends to foster a spoiled child mentality in people and dogs.
4. Reteach the basic commands and he’ll be recalling properly in no time
Please practise and perfect these commands in an environment where there are, initially, limited distractions. Re-establishing these vital — and often lifesaving — commands, will increase your trust in your dog and, in turn, his in you, thereby enhancing your mutual respect for each other. And, ultimately, your partnership and bond will be far stronger.
For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial
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