Recall Fail – When the puppy doesn’t come back

Dog Doc Question 14: What happens when the puppy stops coming back?

Oops.  Ounce is nearly 7 months old now and this is often when the trouble starts.  She is more or less fully grown (although she will fill out and might creep up a bit more in height).  She is also becoming more mature, which mainly means that she is a bit like a teenager; she thinks she knows best!

Collies are excellent at anticipation – they believe they know what you are going to do before you do.  This is what makes them so great for herding, as they can think like the shepherd and anticipate what the sheep will do.  However, it is a bit of a nightmare for us as we have to try and stop them rushing off.  Basically, she realised we were about to cross the road so ran over it, giving me a heart attack.  I then had to call her back over it so that I could get them all together and make them wait, crossing in a controlled manner.  The road is only 3m wide at that point and it’s pretty quiet, but of course I want to manage it.

I called her back, got her to me and then told her off for running away. Big mistake.  Huge.  She then gave me a filthy look when I called her again, a few minutes later.  She was then saying to me “You told me off, so I am NEVER coming back to you again.”  Lovely.

I spent the next hour trying to re-train the recall, practically from scratch.  I had to turn away from Ounce, with the other dogs on lead and walk away, so that she would follow.  I had to entice her nearer to me and then be actually thrilled that she had come back to me (this is extremely difficult to do when you basically want to kill them).  I had to persevere, leaving her for a few minutes then trying again, repeating the whole rigmarole with the other dogs being called in and rewarded, then put on lead, then a change of direction, then being thrilled that the pup came back.

What a palaver.  Of course it was all my own fault.  You should never call your puppy and then be cross with it.  Even just a cross tone of voice is enough to undo all your hard work.  If she ran across the road then it was my fault.  I have to anticipate that she will anticipate and make sure that I either put her on the lead, or convince her I am going a different way until I know it is safe.

What have I learned?

Lesson learned:  ALWAYS PRAISE THE PUPPY!  Border Collies in particular have what is referred to as ‘poor bounce back’ which means they are unforgiving; you tell me off and I will hate you forever.

Fortunately for me she has forgiven me and today was able to come for a sweetie every time, even with the others all running about.  I’m lucky that I spent so long working with her before I put her in the pack and that I still spend time training her on her own.  Very often when they are in a pack they stop looking at you and just refer to the next one up, which means you have very little chance of getting them back.

When should they go off lead?

I saw this as a question on a social media group for Border Collie owners.  In light of what I have said above, you might think that it is better to wait until they are older before you let them off lead at all. WRONG!  You absolutely MUST let your puppy off lead from day 1 of their walks and then work like crazy on the recall. Have a look at Ounce on her first walk – Puppy’s first walk (so sweet!).  I can’t imagine starting that process so easily with an adult (or teenage) dog, can you?  At the very least, I would have to have a long line.

This is basically like a piece of rope around twenty feet long.  You put the puppy on one end and stand on the other end.  Let him go off for a wander and then call him back after a few minutes.  If he doesn’t respond, give a gentle tug on the line to attract his notice, then call and reward.  Do NOT pull him back to you – he has to want to come back.  The line is for your security, that’s all.  Please DO NOT chase your dog, you will not teach him to come back to you that way!  He must want to come back to you on his own.

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