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Epic recall failure

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So, little Brito has some recall issues.  No great surprise; he’s seven months old and a pretty confident little guy.  He has lots of interests and I’m only one of them.

There is a fairly common technique for teaching a dog to keep their eyes on you in public; the basic idea is simple.  You take your dog for a walk.  At some point, you hide behind a tree and let your dog figure out that they are alone and allow them to get a bit panicked. The idea is that after awhile, your dog should keep a closer eye on you and not wander as far.  That’s the theory anyway.

And the reality?  Well, here’s how it went for me…

I took Brito to a local school yard where I am very familar with the layout.  First we played ball and ran and played together.  All was well but after five minutes or so, Brito got “hooked’ by some smell on the other side of the football field and rather than coming back to me when I called, he took off to see the sights.   I called once and he stopped to look at me.  And then kept right on going in the opposite direction.

This was my chance.

Lickety split I zoomed behind a tree about fifty feet away and peeked out. Whew!  He hadn’t seen me go, as he was engrossed with a nice, smelly plant.  Oh boy….any second now he’ll turn around and see that I’m gone.  So far, so good.

I watched quietly.  After about a minute, I noted that he was still heading in the opposite direction. Not once had I noticed him look for me.  Yet.

Another minute passed.  Brito was becoming  a relatively small dot in the distance and he was still heading in the wrong direction.  I start to get a bit concerned.  I know the layout of this school pretty well and he’s now heading in a direction where he could get himself into some trouble.

Oh crap – he’s heading for the creek.  I leap out of my hiding spot towards the little white dot and just then….he realizes he’s alone.  He looks around and doesn’t see me.  I stop moving and sit on the ground to make myself less visible.  Surely now he’s heading back?  The training plan is still alive?

And then it happens; he’s running back to me!

But wait…he’s NOT heading back to me; he’s heading for a group of kids playing ball and eating snacks on the opposite corner.  And while safe from the creek…oh no!  They are sharing their snacks with him!  They are playing ball with him!    The parents are puzzled by the appearance of a puppy dragging a long leash but the kids are thrilled for a new playmate, and Brito is happy for the company, toys and food.

I am trying to hand signal across the entire field – DON’T FEED HIM.  DON’T PLAY WITH HIM!  IGNORE HIM!  But none of my signs are making any sense at all, so they scoop up his leash and start walking him back to me, feeding and playing with him the whole while, yelling, “It’s ok; don’t worry!   He’s fine!  We’re bringing him back to you!”.

Meanwhile, Brito is in his element; he has found the three things that he loves dearly – food, toys and children.  All in one place.  What a lucky boy!

Maybe I misunderstood the method, but I thought the dog was supposed to be the one panicking and running.  No one ever said anything about the human.

As my kids would say, “Epic fail”.

I’m glad they weren’t’ there to witness this event.  They would have thought it was awfully funny.  I’d be hearing about it for years.

No worries.  I have a new plan…..

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

28 responses »

  1. Recall is definitely something I’ve struggled on with my fairly high-drive pointer…I definitely know the feeling of being the panicking human! 🙂 What’s the new plan?

  2. I love this….suddenly I don’t feel so inadequate with my recall failures. Hope your next plan works. 🙂

  3. LOL. we have been doing this…however, making sure the level of distractions are not too high and someone else is there to help keep an eye on our 7 month old little hooligan…I have seen a great improvement in the last 2 weeks in his recall and focus. I like the idea of putting the responsibility of keeping track of me on his shoulders.

  4. So Terrier!

    I always say “Sure, my dogs want to be with me! They always look over their shoulders just as they disappear over the horizon. They say ‘Hurry up! Ain’t ya coming?’ ”

    Bwahahahaha! Love my terriers!

  5. Denise, my entire family howled with laughter as I read this out loud to them….but then, we have lived with terriers…..I can’t wait for the next plan!

  6. My heart sank when I saw that he was going to be rewarded by others…I have hope that even Denise Fenzi has her failures….

  7. Are you sure Brito is not part Siberian?!

  8. LIKE!

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. I tried this technique as well, but abandoned it for the opposite reason. We were walking in a school yard very close to home. She was so upset she couldn’t find me that she took off running for home. Every time I called her from behind, she ran faster, apparently thinking I was at home calling her. Luckily there were no streets to cross to get home!

  10. Ellen Hallerman

    Thanks so much for your honesty! I am working with an Airedale Terrier with a very high distractability index. He can do very well but O those blankety blank deer! Always learning.

  11. Having both Tervs and an Airdale I can tell you from first hand experience the hiding tactic has always perfectly with all of my Tervs over the years. They can’t stand the thought of losing me. The Airedale Terrier not so much. She is fearless and loves nothing more than to go on a walkabout looking for adventures. Keeping her near me is all about convincing her I have something of value of she wants badly (like a ball or yummy food). I love hearing about your adventure with Brito. Thank you!

  12. Works way better with slightly insecure dogs…although they can be hard to shake!

  13. Oh my that is just Murphy’s Law isn’t it… when you really don’t need a bunch of kids with snacks and balls – there they are! I am glad you wrote this so that the next time I do something similar I won’t be kicking myself so hard 🙂

  14. This is sadly familiar. :::sigh:::

  15. This has been a huge struggle for me, and I have a sporting dog. This method worked liked gangbusters with all my others but my current dog who’s now 2yo really doesn’t care if I exist once we go out into the world. It’s hard to minimize distractions when anything and everything outside my house is distracting. If I could bleach the smells out of everything outside I might get somewhere. Nose turns on, ears turn off.

  16. Been through a similar experience in the woods with my young GSD, except I found she was not looking for me in a panicked fashion, she was hunting (and caught) a quail and the small dot was her in the middle of a field, finishing the quail off before settling down to eat it. I did a recall, she lifted her head and situated me and then – oh wonders of this world – picked the bird up and ran back to bring it proudly to me and, in view of the tennis ball I promptly bounced (no time for theories about behavior with a hidden reward here), she let it go and came to me, answered a sit and got the ball. I didn’t know if this was going to work or not. I got lucky. Fortunately it was the hunting season here and I am sure a hunter found the freshly killed bird on the footpath pretty soon. And I could always recycle my dog to be a gun dog if ever IPO doesn’t work out. Been working on recalls ever since….

  17. ahhhhh ye ole “hide behind the tree and they will come”. Did this with my first Toller. I got her as a search and rescue prospect. Part of early training is the hide and seek game. Long story short….16 week old Toller puppy doing her own thing in a park while I hid behind a tree being told by another trainer, “she will come back”. She didn’t. We had to go chase her down……
    her grand-daughter is the same way. Looking forward to this new plan. Cause at almost 7 years old we are still on a long line when out in the open.

  18. Ha! I will never forget the day my young male Corgi decided he knew where we were going. I had two of the other older dogs with me, and thought the sight of them coming back would encourage him.


    As he crossed over the abandoned beaver dam, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure I was where he left me, and kept going. I found him quietly checking out the area around our vehicle.

    *I* was the one with panic on my face, he totally knew where he was and assumed I’d catch up at some point.

    We didn’t do that again for a long time and he still (at 7) is not completely reliable. He is a supremely self confident dog in the woods with a HUGE comfort zone. That said he does keep a better eye on me now, just not how the rest of his family has been.

  19. This always worked with my herding breeds, maybe not for Terriers. Especially adolescent males.

  20. Ha! Confident dogs are confident that you will be there when needed and they have no need to check up on you!

    It’s our scaredy pups that have perfect recalls! 🙂 My Sal hates to even let me off the leash!

    And DON”t rely on maturity. I have two old dogs at present who have both developed selective deafness lately. My previously ‘almost perfect recalls’ have now gone by the board as thir body language clearly shouts out at me “Sorry I cannot hear you calling me!” Just like elderly (or not so elderly) husbands 😦

  21. I’m sorry, but I’m laughing. Even confident herding breed dogs are usually a little more dependent and care about where their person is than dogs of some other breeds. I have so been there.

    That is a great instructional tale.

    Everything will be fine.

  22. I tried the hide behind the tree training game with my now 9 year old Belgian boy. As soon as he realized I’d vanished he panicked and went into a dead run in the opposite direction. I was terrified; but he eventually turned around in a dead run back to where I was and we both survived. Now I’m careful to only do that exercise in highly controlled settings. Glad Brito is all right.

  23. Alicia Graybill

    Thanks for sharing this, Denise. I’ve done something similar with my Aussies but the Papillon is more like the terrier, too confident and happy to be worried about me. 🙂

  24. Years ago some instructors insisted that I try something like that in a class that I took with my old boy (who was not so old at the time) just for fun. When he took to sniffing the floor, I was supposed to go into the bathroom until he realized I was gone and started looking for me. I did it because I knew it wouldn’t do him any harm, but he is was so independent, I knew it was an exercise in futility! He never got tired of exploring every inch of that room, and they finally gave up on the idea. I was just so relieved that he actually got through it without marking anything! I knew it was possible I was going to have some extensive cleanup to do!!

    • I would NEVER try this out in the wilds of public spaces.

      I collected my sister’s young Speagle (Cocker Spaniel/Beagle) to mind for her, got stranded in Sydney half way home (planes grounded) but was lucky enough to have a daughter within driving dstance of the airport. Dog and i went to saty with my daughter bt dog managed to make a dash for a door and disappeared into the wild blue yonder — unknown suburb in an unknown city with a busy highway just one block distant.
      I think I aged 10 years in the three hours it took us to catch her!

      No thinks, never again. And I’ll stick to Working dogs (US Herding) in future. They might be confident, Greta, but they are sure that we silly owners NEED them to make sure we behave 🙂

  25. Catherine Thomas

    This has worked beautifully for me with all of my own dogs (belgians and aussies) but it has backfired MORE than once with clients and their dogs 🙂 The worst case was when a client’s dog – a dog who had been adopted from the local shelter – decided to go walkabout on my peoperty for about twenty minutes. The client calmly said, “he does this all the time” LOL

    These days, I ask a lot more questions and observe the dog for a lot longer before attempting hide and seek!!


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