Recall Frustration

Frustration is an incredibly difficult emotion to combat. I am not a patient person at the best of times. When things don’t go as planned I have to work hard to collect myself and carry on.

Luckily, I have a very resilient dog. Shiva gets frustrated when I send her mixed signals or when she isn’t getting rewarded fast enough, but she bounces right back as soon as there is a treat in her mouth. Shiva’s frustration meter is much longer than the one she has for attention.

But that’s another story.

Recalls have been our biggest training issue. Period. It feels silly to say this because Shiva really isn’t a runner or an escape artist. She doesn’t have any interest in taking off to explore the land that time forgot. She actually does prefer to keep us in her line of sight. Shiva doesn’t run away.

But she loves nothing more than to run around.

This is frustrating for a myriad of reasons – mostly surrounding our agility practice. Our small living quarters don’t lend well to obstacle training. I can fit one jump, maybe two in our living room. But only in a straight line and only facing in one direction. I can fit a practice plank for contact work and I can fit four weave poles. That’s it. We do have a decent yard but it is unfenced. The only way I can work with my highly distractable dog in the yard is on a leash, which means we can’t use obstacles without knocking them over on her head. While this is highly entertaining at times it’s also dangerous

Of course, if Shiva had a perfect recall, we could practice outdoors every day.

What pushes me over the frustration threshold is that just when I think we may be getting close, just when Shiva has responded instantly to my calls the last 99 times out of 100, she will blow me off over a Tim Horton’s coffee cup and then act like she has no idea who I am for the next thirty minutes.

It. Drives. Me. Insane. The next time you are at the dog park and you see a woman crying while banging her head on a tree, that’s me. For your own safety, just keep walking.

Yesterday morning Shiva and I went for a walk in the forest. I was determined to work on some rear cross exercises that can be performed on flat ground. Shiva was apparently determined to eat the plastic cups littering the lakeside after the weekend’s fishing parties.

Normally I give her three strikes. After each failed recall I will put her back on the leash and then let her off again a short while later. If she doesn’t return after doing this three times, she is back on the leash and her running time is over. Off-leash time is a privilege and if she is too distracted to handle said privilege it is in everyone’s best interests to remove it for a while.

That being said, this can feel like a punishment for me, not just for my dog. I really wanted to work on rear crosses yesterday. Because Shiva was being a silly doofus, I couldn’t. This made me frustrated and – I won’t lie – a little angry. I held on to this anger for the remainder of our walk too. Marching around the block and up to the front door, I barely acknowledged the dog at the end of the leash.

Healthy, right?

Within a few minutes of being home I was over it. Well, at least I was over my anger with Shiva. I am still frustrated. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Should I just give up altogether? How are we ever going to be successful if we can’t properly train?

Perhaps there is a smidge of hope. On April 1st I gave our notice to the landlords. We now have three months to find a new place to live. A place that is pet-friendly and that might just have a fenced yard. I have my fingers crossed.

12 thoughts on “Recall Frustration

  1. Ugh, sorry about this – but try to hang in there. Here’s something I recently discovered that, perhaps, will make you feel better. Tucker & Phoebe have always (I say always, but the more accurate truth is “for a really long time”) had great recalls. I worked on it really hard with them in their early days (Tucker is now nine and Phoebe is four). But recently, not so much Tucker, but Phoebe, has been having some episodes of “selective deafness.” Instead of immediately darting back to me at full speed as she usually does when I call her, lately she has been ambling. Not quite as focused, or as responsive, as I would like, or feel is safe, for a dog that is off leash as much as my dogs are. So I’ve recently (like yesterday) started a remedial program of high value rewards at random times both inside the house as well as in the (fenced) yard and select other areas where the dogs are safe to be off leash provided they respond to my voice commands. It’s too soon to say how effective it will be, but I have high hopes for it.


  2. Recall is tough. I don’t have much of an issue with it myself, because I don’t let the Greyhounds off leash when we’re not in a fenced in or safe area. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the blog Never Say Never Greyhounds, but she has a series of videos where she shares what works for her on training different things, and her dogs are PHENOMENAL at agility. You might get some ideas from her. I’m almost sure she has some things about teaching recall. With Morgan, I don’t call her unless I’m sure she will come back to me. At the dog park, she’ll pretty much always come back because she likes to check in. She also gets rewarded really handsomely when she does come back. Kuster gets practice in strange places with the Flexi Lead right now.


  3. Recall is really really hard. Like… really hard. Especially when you have a dog that isn’t really going that far away from you (I think they feel like they’re already “there” you know?). Anyway, I really sympathize. Good luck finding a new place – I hope you end up somewhere you love!


  4. I feel your pain. With Honey and Agatha, recall was no problem. With Shadow and Christie, I’ve reenacted your scene of banging my head on a tree while crying many, many times.

    I tend toward thinking that not all dogs are capable of recall 100% of the time. But you and Shiva have achieved so much together that if anyone can figure this out, I’m sure it’s you.

    The experts say you need to learn how to be more exciting than that Tim Horton’s cup. (What is it with that company, anyway? Are they out to get you?)

    Since Shiva checks in and probably watches you out of the corner of her eye while she’s ignoring you, it might be time to disappear. I noticed at the dog park that many dogs never check in with their people. Why? Because their people never leave the same spot nursing their coffee and talking to their friends.

    I’m constantly walking around and occasionally hiding behind trees so Honey has to look for me. I don’t think it would have worked with Shadow–her hound nose would have prevented her from caring where I was. But maybe it will work with Shiva.

    Good luck finding a new place. I hope there’s a Shiva friendly place waiting for you.


  5. For Elka, one of the most fun things she can do (apparently) is run in big crazy circles. It’s certainly what she did the one time she slipped her collar on a walk (my heart stopped), and it’s what she’ll do in the backyard if she isn’t ready to go back inside yet.

    What frustrates me the most, though? When she indicates that she needs to go out to eliminate, and then doesn’t. She screws around, she sniffs things, she half squats and repositions, without seeming to actually have to DO anything. It thoroughly frustrates me, and I’m the only member of the household she does it with. She listens best to me otherwise, though, so I guess it’s an okay tradeoff.


  6. Awwww….I feel for you. We’ve all had those moments where I dogs have frustrated us to anger. Maybe take a short break from recall training, and then you might feel better about it? Congrats on giving notice – fingers crossed for you that you find a pawsome place to live!!


  7. I agree with Kate that dogs already feel like they are there. But I understand being frustrated and angry and banging my head. Leash training is like my ultimate cryptinite (sp?). I suck at it. And I don’t like it. And I’ve walked home angry more than once because of it.

    I only have one dog that I can do recall with and Silver has gotten old enough and craves so much attention, she doesn’t let me down anymore. But then I rarely do it anymore. There’s too many other factors to take in.

    So, while none of this was helpful, I can understand. Does that count?? 🙂


  8. Maybe Shiva has a bit of Chessie in her? Yes all of our dogs did the running/keep away thing. Freighter is just beginning it…joy oh joy! I would say that perhaps Shiva had a bit of Spring fever going on. Ours have it too. Thunder and Storm can be incredibly focused one day and off sniffing something-that-I-do-not-want-to-know-what-it-is the next and just ignore the recall. Yes, it can be frustrating, but as trainers, we don’t want to come down so hard that we steal their joy to work for us. But then one day it just seems to come together and it is beautiful. You will see.

    Good luck on the house hunting and move (don’t envy the move part…lol).


  9. Well, I am certainly not the person to talk to about recalls! I don’t even expect it out of my dogs. It isn’t that I never work on it, or that it never frustrates me. But, knowing their breed-yeah, never going to be 100%.

    Some dogs are never 100% ever-because the stuff *out there* will always be more interesting than whatever it is you are doing with them.

    And oh! I hope the new house hunt goes well. Moving just stinks but I hope you get a place with a fenced yard. We love ours!


  10. Good luck! Barbie only gets one strike. If she ignores me once she goes back on the lead. She has learned her lesson pretty well. Bender does the running away thing when he knows I want to go home and he has found someone else in the park to play ball with. The trick is to get his lead on him when he is off guard. And if you leash Bender, Barbie comes sprinting to you from wherever she happens to be cos she is petrified we might leave without her!


  11. You’ve accomplished so much with Shiva, I have no doubt you’ll conquer this as well. Have you tried playing a little game of tug or tossing a ball when she comes back to you? One thing I also read was to teach “come” and “go” together – when she comes to you, immediately give her the command to go.

    How exciting that you’ll be moving! I’ve always loved searching for a new place to live. Good luck.


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