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Canine Behavior/Recall problems


We got our standard poodle when he was 14 months old.  He is a lovely dog.  He had 2 previous owners.  The one before us had to leave him for 12/13 hours at a time because of wok commitments.  My husband does not keep well so I do most of the dog walking and training.  I spent a long time working with him on recall and until 2/3 weeks ago I was quite happy with his behavior.  However when he is now off lead and playing with other dogs he is looking for every opportunity to take off into undergrowth or a field and no amount of shouting will bring him back.  I do all the usual things when he comes back by telling him he is a good boy and offering a treat.  In every other respect he is lovely.  Can you help?

You've lost your recall and it's not coming back with the present scenario.  Go back to "Kindergarten" with this dog.  Try the following:

   Choose a word that you and no one is your family EVER uses.  DO NOT use "come"...that word has very little meaning to your dog at this point, since he's basically been taught to ignore it.  For our purpose here, we will use the word "PRESTO."

   Using a TREAT (something your dog really, really wants), walk up to the dog, stand directly in front of him, say "presto", pop treat in dog's mouth.  Repeat this twice more.  Now take a few steps backward.  Your dog will come toward you (almost all of them do   if he doesn't, repeat the first step three more times.)  AS he comes toward you, say "Presto" and pop the treat in his mouth.  What you are doing is associating the word with the ACTION and offering the treat when the dog is IN FRONT OF YOU.  Repeat this twice more, end session.  Later in the day, repeat the above scenario again. Do this twice a day (for short intervals) three days in a row.

   On the fourth day, catch your dog's eye and say "Presto".  Don't be more than a few feet away.  Give the dog three or four seconds to process what's happening.  He should come towards you.  If he does not, WALK OUT OF THE ROOM, count to ten, go back INTO the room and start from Square One (as if teaching it from the beginning.)  What you're doing is building a conditioned response to the word "Presto" which involves the dog coming TOWARD you and  receiving a treat while standing  STILL in front of you.  It takes up to 60 repetitions to get a strong conditioned response.  Once you have ten out of ten successful trials (dog always comes toward you when you say "Presto" and you always give him the treat once he's reached you), you can begin to play "recall" games inside the house.  (Do NOT take this routine OUTSIDE where there are far too many distractions until your dog is ROCK SOLID INSIDE, and this might take several weeks.)  To play this game, you can begin by saying "Presto" from the next room, but don't confuse the dog too much, make it easy for him.  You can then make it a bit more difficult and increase the value of the TREAT (this is called "jackpotting") when the dog finds you in another room.  This makes "work" fun for the dog and for you, turning your training sessions into something upbeat.  The last step is taking PRESTO outside.  A confined area (fenced in) is ALWAYS mandatory.  You've taught the dog to come toyou when called WITHOUT A LEASE, let's try to keep it that way.  A Leash is ALWALYS "psychological restraint" to a dog...he knows you're in control.  When the dog comes to you from his free choice, he's making a DECISION.  This is long term memory in the making.

  Repeat your recall exercises at least once or twice a week for several months.  Make the REWARD interesting and varied and NEVER, EVER use the word "presto" (or whatever other recall word you have) for anything ELSE other than recall work.

Having said all this, not every dog is a candidate for off leash exercise.  The Standard Poodle is FAMOUS for "running", they are (after all) field dogs (intended as such).  ONE FAILURE will extinguish your recall.  Never set the dog up to fail.  If you must, purchase a very, very long training leash and "test" the recall outdoors starting with the dog on short leash and slowly (over days) extending the leash in the least populated areas you can find.  IF the dog EVER IGNORES YOU, turn your back to him and remain there until he comes TO YOU, stands or sits in front of you, say "presto", pop treat, circle the dog left or right (as if following a hoola hoop) to disengage his prey drive response and bring cognition into the picture, and then go back to square one.

The only place to "test" this dog and foolproof your recall OF LEASH is in a safely enclosed area with few distractions (NOT a dog park).  If the dog REFUSES, turn your back and sit on the ground.  When he comes to you, "presto", treat, get up and leave.  Try again the next day or even the next hour.  Never take the chance that your dog will fail because one serious failure can cost him his life.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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