Puppy recall deterioration, especially birds and ducks.
May 31, 2016 4:31 AM   Subscribe

My puppy is a collie x king charles spanial cross. Her recall when out on walks was really great until about a month ago. We moved from a suburb to a city and started walking more along rivers and in parks than in quiet fields. Her recall has deteriorated a lot. The biggest problem is birds and ducks, nothing will get her attention. If on the lead, with a bird in sight, I can hold a high value treat against her nose and she doesn't even blink. If off the lead she will chase the birds persistently.

But even without birds, all of the recall training I've done seems to have reset right back to zero. She was improving consistently until the move.
She used to love chasing sticks, now there is too much other stimulation for her to care about sticks.
It's not usually a massive problem as I tend to go to contained areas and the birds fly off. And I can usually get a 'sit' then. But this weekend we were walking at a lake, with lots of ducks and she swam out quite far into the lake chasing ducks The ducks seemed to be playing with her, letting her get close then flying a short distance! Even paddling towards her on occasion. Cheeky ducks.
No amount of calling or offerings would get us a glance. After an hour we caught her, but only when we tried to pretend to leave the area, she noticed this and followed us into a fenced area! This won't always be possible in the city parks circled by roads though.
posted by choppyes to Pets & Animals (5 answers total)
Even though you forgot to pay the puppy tax, I'll still try to help!

* Make sure that you aren't just calling her to you when it's time to leave. That will teach her that coming when called means the fun is over. Call her over just to love on her, give her an awesome treat, and then send her off to play again. Practice in the house and other low-stimulation places.

* Try to find something even more amazing than the birds. For my lab that means treats; for my parents' lab mix it means tennis balls. What does your dog love more than anything?

* I also suggest checking out the r/dogs subreddit. Lots of amazing advice and a great community there.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:45 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Dogs do what works to get them what they want. As long as she's continually allowed to experience how well ignoring your recall works to get her what she wants (chasing birds), she's just going to keep on keepin' on. Get her a long 20 foot lead and reel her back in if she does not recall, then rewards like crazycakes with whatever it is she loves most in the world. (This is along with the above advice.) Do not allow her to continue to rehearse this self-reinforcing behavior.

Google "really reliable recall" for an excellent program for teaching a solid recall.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:09 AM on May 31, 2016

Practice recall continuously every day. Not just when you want to go home. Keep a pocket full of delicious treats. Recall at random times throughout the day, wait until she's busy with something interesting then call her to you, get her used to breaking a train of thought to come to you. Praise & reward then let her go back to what she was doing. Practice in many different locations in varying states of attentiveness. Make sure to reward her every single time she responds to a recall with high value treats for a while, when she seems pretty solid on it then you can slowly shift to using the treats randomly or when they've come in a trying situation as it actually works better at reinforcing behavior than a treat every time, but praise, praise, praise every single time.

The move could have shaken up the command, because dogs tend to have situational learning. They don't abstract, they don't know that come means come every single time. They need to learn it means it at home, in the bedroom, in the backyard, at the park, on the street, at the other park, with ducks, without ducks etc, that's why the constant repetition in many situations. Even if you think your dog has the command down, keep reinforcing it every single day for the rest of it's life, even if it's only lots of praise every single time it comes.

Also never use the come command to call your dog to you to punish them. Ever.

Unituitively do not move toward a dog to catch them, dogs love a came of keep away almost as much as ducks. You move away to get them to follow you as you discovered. I have a dog that super focuses on things like squirrels I find using "Lets go" & walking away a much more effective way to get him to break focus & start in the direction I want to go than calling him to me or approaching him. Next time call your dogs name to get it's attention then turn & briskly walk away, try & get it to chase/follow you this will make catching easier.

That Really Reliable Recall is soren lorensen recommended is a great program, it appears a little dated but don't let that put you off a lot of the info & ideas are very good & clearly explained.

As the owner of 2 very stubborn & smart terriers I feel your frustration, good luck.
posted by wwax at 8:01 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

As mentioned above, if you can't immediately apply feedback (via long leash), you can't practice recall. You can practice ignoring your recall commands, so you're doing some good work on that. Practice in both low, and high stimulation environments. Don't go off leash (or don't try to recall off leash) until recall is great in high stimulation environments.

Also, as you're in the city now, unless this is a leash free park, be aware that your off leash dog might wreck someone's day (phobic of dogs, so they see you and avoid the park, or just trying to go through with a dog that doesn't respond well to off leash dogs, and as such they need to avoid the park). Especially if it's recall is poor.
posted by nobeagle at 8:35 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

What are you using for bait? The more tempting the distraction (quacky fluffies made of meat are about as tempting as it gets) the more tempting the treat reward must be to compete. Are you using something like raw meat? It might take that, to redirect attention for a while.

Really, all it takes is one gander with a family to protect to provide some very effective discipline indeed, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
posted by Fantods at 1:27 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

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