View Full Version : Best Way to Teach Recall and Stay?

13th August 2007, 10:08 PM
Bella has been progressing very well with most of her commands - she has already nailed sit, down, over, paw, etc. but we are having some problems with stay and recall on a consistent basis. She will do it sometimes very well (mostly when she knows we are in training mode and have treats) but other times when there is something much more interesting she will just ignore us. The other day we had her off leash in a park we always take her to (very safe and away from traffic and all) and a little girl went walking through the grassy area we were playing ball with Bella in. Bella saw her and just ran up to her and the girl ran and Bella chased after her and ignored our commands. I was mortified because of course the little girl starting crying. I felt like such a bad dog owner :-( The mom was fine with it and was like what a cute dog :) but I felt really bad and can't have her doing things like that, especially with a less understanding mother. I know she is still too young to be reliable but I want to start breaking bad habits like this right off the bat. Any suggestions for how to get her to listen even with major distractions would be much appreciated!!

13th August 2007, 10:39 PM
Isn't she stlll very young (eg well under a year?)? Stay and recall are really not things most dogs are very good at til they get to be a year old-plus. I woud never, ever trust a dog under a year to reliably recall and stay is also very hard for a dog under a year -- they will stay a short time but to expect more is like expecting a 5 year old to sit still for long periods of time. I know there's a desire to build on her basics so far, but I think you are still expecting to much to try and require her to ignore distractions at puppy age -- you can work on small things but she needs time to grow up and have fun and become mature enough to be able to focus (for example, working on the 'look' command might be more constructive just to help her learn to focus until she gets older and can apply those skills to stays and recalls). You want to be careful about what you ask of her at this age, as you can end up with a very anxious dog if she is being constantly asked to do things she finds too hard to know how to do and knows she isn't doing things right and this is making you frustrated, and her frustrated. Think in terms of a child being asked to do things that are just too hard -- it doesn't set up a very good teaching or learning relationship for the child's life, or the dog's life. She has her whole life in which to learn a downstay, in other words. :) Let her be a puppy right now.

Any form of obedience before age 1 is important to do to start to shape your dog and teach her self control (and to have fun! :) ) but really is only very generally laying the groundwork for what you will want your dog to be able to do as she matures mentally and physically.

If you are in a class it would be good perhaps to discuss what can be reasonably expected from a dog of Bella's age with the trainer. Remember that under about 6 months training is really to be kept very light and fun, just basic general commands that will set the stage for later learning, never hard tasks like downstays of any duration for example; and under a year you are still working with a puppy, not an adult, and need to keep expectations in line with your dog's age and capabilities. Otherwise training becomes stressful and not fun for both of you. :thmbsup:. You want it to remain a pleasure for all! :flwr:

If she isn't returning fairly reliably be very careful of having her offlead at all -- and also keep in mind that letting her off lead and NOT returning when called is a bad training move -- it is negating the previous training you have been doing. It is better to keep her on the lead if you expect her to return to you because she is currently being allowed to ignore at will what she has semi-learned (in other words she definitely doesn't consistently connect being called to needing to return and just returns if she feels like it -- this can be very dangerous for her). This kind of situation is really common, but needs to be avoided -- it is a half step back to every step forward you make when training. Only have her off lead if you are not going to expect or need her to return (eg in safe enclosed play areas). She shouldn't ever be able to ignore calls to return -- instead, keep her on the lead and continue to work on recall on a long lead or in a safe fenced area, until she is old enough and capable enough to return reliably -- then she is fine for offlead walks where you will want her to respond.

PS Many feel cavaliers are never truly reliable on recall as they are so easily distracted and many retain a strong prey drive. It takes a lot of focused training with a mature dog to perfect a recall. Of my dogs only Jaspar is reliable and even then there are times he will run to something he wants to see and disregards me. He will always return, but won't always turn on a dime (about 98% of the time he does -- stops immediately and returns -- and therefore I would view him as *exceptionally* good on recall compared to most dogs we meet, outside of trained collies! -- but still not absolutely trustworthy).

Cathy T
14th August 2007, 12:36 AM
A reliable recall is the most difficult behavior to teach. Which is why mine are always on leash unless they are in a safe area. I just can't trust them. If Shelby sees a bird...she's gone. I work on recall all of the time. I'll have them at our little dog park and out of the blue call them to me, I'll do it in the house if I'm in a different room. I would say mine have a good recall but no way is it 100% reliable and I don't think it ever will be. Do you have her in a class? We really learned a lot from the various obedience courses we've taken. We just took one earlier this year (at 3 and 4 years old) because you can never stop learning. We were originally taught recall using a really long lead. Putting them in a sit stay and then calling them to us. It's one of those that just requires repetition over and over....and may never be 100% reliable. I've accepted that :confused:

14th August 2007, 10:23 AM
Teach recall as soon as possible! When you get a young puppy, whatever breed, they stick by you like velcro! You want to teach them to be off lead & train a recall whilst they are young before they bugger off when you give them the chance off lead to leg it as that is what a dog who has not been allowed off lead to learn recall before five months will do!

You need to teach "leave it" first. Your dog needs to know if you say that or "no", to walk on or walk back. If you do this & off lead as often as possible early enough you can control your dog vocally instead of by a piece of material. To do this, a class could help a lot as they often have their dogs & distractions weaving in & out of the dogs until your dog knows to "leave it"!

You also need to find out what motivates your dog! She isn't returning but what does she love? Tug toy, tennis ball, sausages? What? You can use that or you can use a certain sound to mean DELICIOUS food (higher standard than usual aids to training) & make that sound when you want the dog to come to YOU.

As for "stay", I personally am training for a long sit or lie. I don't see the point in a different command for what is the same thing, so I am teaching my dog to sit or lie until I let her do what she wants. To do this, you must reward DURING the sit or lie. If you treat after it, or after your stay, you will comprimise the dog since she will be getting a treat for not doing the command when you release her from it & not rewarding for the actual staying. What I do, since I am increasing the time lengths to suit her attention span as a young dog, I praise & reward during it. I have her sit somewhere, I walk away, I walk back. Don't make her move - you do NOT want to reward this.

14th August 2007, 11:09 AM
I think there's a key clarification that needs to be made here as I would never want anyone to assume anyone is saying *not* to teach recall, or that it can't be taught even from 8 weeks (which is when I began with Jaspar! :)). You CAN of course start to teach a dog to return and IMHO it is the single most important command you can teach! You CANNOT however expect a 5 month old dog to have reliable recall, nor a 9 month old, nor even a one year old, even if you work wih them regularly, in structured classes. Their ability to absorb information and pay close attention an focus as they mature needs to be accommodated in both expectations and assumptions about when it is safe to allow a dog off a lead and what it can be expected to do.

In general -- never allow a dog off a lead in any place where it would be crucial for the dog to return to you for its own safety. Even the best obedience competitive dogs are NEVER 100% accurate on recall.

There are all sorts of fun exercises you can do to work on focus and to begin to introduce small distractions but again, a puppy under a year is simply not going to be able to perform very well reliably in ignoring distractions just as children are easily distracted by their surroundings when young and can only focus for small segments of time on simple tasks. A one year old dog is only the equivalent of a 7-10 tear old and maybe it would help to think of what you would want from a child that age.

A good trainer and class is the very best way to work on complicated commands like downstays and recall, especially if someone isn't sure how to go about gradually building up these important cues and when and how. Not least as getting this wrong can have sad implications at some time in the future when the dog's life may depend on remaining in a stay or returning on a recall.

I highly recommend any of Ian Dunbar's training books or videos for anyone seeking materials to use for home training. :)

14th August 2007, 11:27 AM
No, you cannot expect a five month old Cavalier to have a good recall as that is when they go through their teenage phase up until 9-12 months & become little monsters not because they can't do it!

A recall will be close to perfection up until 5 months, though. At twelve weeks old, I could walk my puppy ANYWHERE & she would be stuck to my leg regardless. Puppies do not like to stray far & it will teach your dog to look out for you even when he or she goes through the stage of ignoring your commands at 5-9 months. A dog that doesn't get this freedom at an early stage, when off lead, is less likely to look up & around to see where you are if you have walked on.

Putting a lead on a dog in a dangerous area goes without saying, if you are in doubt & there is danger. THOUGH, having said that, a reaction to a situation passes down the lead so being nervous or fearful of something will cause the same in the dog.

Recently, my dog has started to show her teenage phase when she sees other people in the park whilst off lead - if I see a person before she does, she knows that if I react by scrambling to get her that there is something she probably wants to do that she isn't allowed to do but if I calmly call her over & put her lead on, she doesn't put up a protest/play a game.

As with anything anyone wants to teach any dog of any breed, you have to gradually increase the distractions to reinforce the command. There is no point in letting a young puppy out off the lead in a big park with lots of children scrambling to say hello & the dog doesn't even know it's own name! However training, for any command, can start as young as 8 weeks old & the younger you start, the better the command. If you get them young enough, you can prevent bad manners rather than curing them just like you can prevent running away off lead rather than curing it.

14th August 2007, 12:14 PM
Having been through many classes and worked with trainers now for a few years, I'd have to disagree (at least on personal experience and observation!) on a belief that any dog should or can be close to perfection on formal recall at 5 months. I think you just had an especially bright and responsive dog. :)

I think maybe we are talking about two different things though and maybe that is confusing the issue. Recall is quite different from walking to heel -- very different concepts and purposes. Recall is the ability to get a dog to return immediately from a distance, reliably. Walking to heel is the ability for a dog to remain close at your side and not wander off. In one case the whole point is to allow the dog to roam freely; in the other, it is to not allow the dog to move off.

I'm not an advocate of pushing training on dogs before they are mentally ready for it and I do think there are distinct points at which different things can be expected. It is worth pointing out that the majority of professional trainers regardless of their school of thinking -- correction based or rewards based -- will not even begin to formally train a puppy til it is at least 6 months old -- this is the common age barrier before which you will not be allowed into a regular training class (puppy classes for socialising and some fun pre-training are a different matter). There are many good reasons for this, some of which I've touched upon.

I absolutely agree to do that training though from early on! :) But also recognise that when training recall, it is better to keep the dog working on a long lead or general lead until older IF you are going to be asking the dog to return on recall -- you don;t want to keep building in acidental opportunities for the dog to ignore a recall cue. That just cements the cue as a 'sometimes' cue it never actually is required to respond to.

I see Ian Dunbar recommends this for training a very reliable recall including an 'emergency' recall on a special word:


This might be a big help for anybody working to get a really good recall and looking for some great techniques for teaching.

My emergency word is actually 'treats!' :lol: Seriously, my dogs all come immediately to that word. Think about why.... they've learned 'treats!' is a word that brings really wonderful rewards and is always worth responding to. So if you train consistently to a special word (sometimes 'come' get overused and kind of meaningless to a dog) that can really help -- and reward profusely with yummies.

14th August 2007, 01:21 PM
My emergency word is actually 'treats!' :lol: Seriously, my dogs all come immediately to that word. Think about why.... they've learned 'treats!' is a word that brings really wonderful rewards and is always worth responding to. So if you train consistently to a special word (sometimes 'come' get overused and kind of meaningless to a dog) that can really help -- and reward profusely with yummies.

The other day at obedience training, I heard a really good tip, along similar lines to what you do Karlin. They suggested we actually carry some treats with us in a noisy container, so the dog associates the noise of the container with the treats. Then in an emergency situation you shake the container furiously. I like the sound of that and am going to incorporate that into my training. I have a sports whistle that I use in a similar manner. The only thing that worries me about that though is that a situatiion could arise where I don't have the whistle, so I'm still working on the "come" command too. At least you always have your voice with you.

14th August 2007, 01:49 PM
:lol: I already do that noise training without realising it! I keep small dog biscuits in a coffee tin and when I want to summon the dgs I sometimes just shake the can and they all come running and line up for the treat they know comes next. :lol:

It really underlines that rewards based methods work. If they associate a sound, be it a word, a whistle, or a rattle, with good things they sure learn quickly to do whatever is required to get that reward. But reinforcement over and over is key. I give treats this way a few times daily hence they are very familar with the can rattle, or the word 'treats'. I fall down on transferring this to actual training -- I need to practice particular commands and give rewards as consistently!

14th August 2007, 04:02 PM
I'm well aware of the difference between the two & you really have to judge a dog on it's own merits of what it can pick up. A dog that picks something up in an hour is more than capable & my dog has been capable of picking up anything I throw at her from 8 weeks old.

As for keeping a dog on a lead until you can teach it a recall at say six months - I 100% disagree. That is going to cause it to be a lot tougher than necessary compared to the dog that is already taught to stay by your side already - your dog may not be mentally capable with the more challenging behaviours you want to teach (some dogs, even within a breed, are far smarter than others even!) but you can teach the dog to be relaxed off lead & to not have the instinct to run & run & run. I honestly do think that this is made even worse when owners display their anxiety so their dogs feel it - how can a dog feel secure with you leading him & instructing him if he can tell you are nervous or unsure? He won't & then he is more unlikely to return when you call his name!

My training class actually backed me up on this as they suggested what I had already concluded myself on all of this & were instigating that those who haven't to let their dogs off lead as soon as possible to teach a recall - something I have done successfully with two Cavaliers & a Westie before they were six months old. Let them off lead straight away, whilst waiting to take them on walks safely, teach them simple things like their name & to sit when they want attention.

As for the emergency word - it can be anything! My classes were suggesting a tin can with stones in it but a word does just as well & if you start this if one is unsure about their dogs (understandably - most owners are when they have a young dog they don't feel they know too well) can train this in the house & garden before trying it in a contained field & then moving on to the park.

Obviously, this all proves that every dog & every owner are different. This is what I have done with my dogs, with different levels of training for each dog to suit each dog's personality I have had & had the amount of success that I expected from each dog doing it. The success being that they return before I even have to call their name, never mind when I say a special word, as they watch me intently to make sure I never stray.