Saturday, 25 June 2011


A constantly whining dog can be terribly annoying and frustrating, but whining is a way for dogs to communicate their needs to us, and is not always a bad thing. How much and when a dog whines depends to some extent to their temperament, confidence and health, but to a very large part it is a behaviour that is learned. We are often unaware that we are actively teaching our dog to whine when we really don’t want them to. Often we try to stop whining, but end up encouraging it. On the other hand, if you have a dog that never ever whines, how do you know if they feel pain or worry, or if they need the toilet when you are sleeping at night?

Eddie and Cassie are two very different characters when it comes to whining. Eddie is quite vocal and will voice his discontent, boredom or excitement through whining. He was also quite a whiner when dealing with the stresses of settling into our home. The first night he paced and whined for a long time before quieting down, out of exhaustion, no doubt. Although I have since realized that crating him may have made the transition from kennel to house easier for him, at the time my only strategy was to ignore him and let him get used to his new situation, which he did relatively quickly. After a week with us he was no longer whining in the evenings when we went to bed, leaving him downstairs.

However, as soon as he heard us waking up, or even just our alarm going off, he started whining intensely with the excitement of having us back down and getting to go outside. He made quite some noise, making us stress and hurry downstairs to get him out and quiet. Not an ideal situation. Of course, we were immediately reinforcing his whining, as he was rewarded every morning by us coming downstairs after his performance. It was difficult not to, as we had to get up – we couldn’t stay in bed until he became quiet which would have taken quite some time, and he probably did need the toilet too.

I decided this had to be nipped in the bud. At a weekend, when we had some leeway with time in the morning, as soon as he started whining I went downstairs and told him very firmly, “no” and “go back to bed”. I had to physically push and herd him into bed, at first, but he very quickly understood my body language (determined stance, moving towards him). Once he was lying back in bed, I left to go back to mine. Of course, at fist, as soon as I turned to go back up, he followed me to the bottom of the stairs and resumed his whining. So I repeated my correction, coming down, saying “no, back to bed” and making him go.

After a few repetitions he followed me to the stairs but did not whine. When he had been quiet only a few minutes I went downstairs, praised him profusely and took him outside. The next morning he was whining again, but less intensely. However, he got told to go back to bed again. This time he remained quiet very quickly. In fact, after the weekend, I only had to correct him a couple of times, and usually only by voice from the top of the stairs. Now he does not whine at all when he hears us get up, but waits patiently and quietly at the bottom of the stairs.

In fact, the “no, go back to bed” correction has proved very effective in several situations, but more on that elsewhere. I was, however, a little worried that discouraging Eddie from whining would stop him from telling me if something was really wrong, or if he needed to go out during the night. So when he did start to whine a little tentatively on a weekend when we weren’t awake, but the time was reasonable for us and him to wake up, I did get up and take him out. This way, I was hoping, I was rewarding him for telling us when he really needed to go.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to encourage him to start waking us up, however gently, earlier and earlier. I have therefore tried to make a distinction between toileting needs and morning walkies. He gets to go for a little walk in the mornings once we’re out of bed, but if he whines earlier than we are ready, I go downstairs and open the door to the garden, so that he can go if he needs the toilet. Then I go back to bed. This seems to have worked very well to discourage him to whine for walkies too early, but has let him know that if he needs to toilet I will come and open the door. Indeed, the few times he has had a bad stomach in the night, he has let me know, and I have let him out, he’s done his thing and quickly gone back to bed, with a little tail wag on the way back as if to say “thanks”. My strategy seems to have worked.

Cassie was very different, however. When she came to us she didn’t whine at all. She slept through quietly from the first night. She was still in bed when Eddie was waiting at the bottom of the stairs in the morning. In fact, she was so quiet I was worried she wouldn’t tell me if she needed to go out, but just go. Thankfully she turned out to have a stronger stomach than Eddie and she is very regular in her toilet needs. We have had only one accident, and only pee.

Over time, however, Cassie has become more vocal. I think she is partly taking after Eddie and whining when she is really excited about a cat or a squirrel, and partly coming out of her shell more, and learning that communicating with us pays dividends, by getting our attention. The real test was a bad stomach at night, however. Usually she shows me that she wants to go out by pacing around the door, but quietly. The other night, however, I heard some whining, and I could tell it was her. Indeed she needed to go out and relieve herself. I gave her a lot of praise, to show her I was very pleased and proud that she had alerted me!

Although some thought and care has to be taken to encourage the right kind and discourage the wrong kind of whining, it is a behaviour that I don’t think should be suppressed entirely, at the same time as it should be managed. It is one of the ways that a dog can use to communicate its needs to us, and for a happy canine and human cohabitation, we have to listen to them sometimes too. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Reading List - The Companion Species Manifesto

"There cannot be just one companion species; there have to be at least two to make one. It is in the syntax; it is in the flesh." 
A little diversion from the practicalities of dog training, a note on a short book by Donna Haraway, Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at University of California, Santa Cruz, called the The Companion Species Manifesto (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003). More thoughts in process than a call to action, this is an exploration of our relationship to canines in philosophical, historical and socio-cultural terms.

Some of my favourite bits:
"... dogs are not about oneself. Indeed, that is the beauty of dogs. They are not a projection, nor the realization of an intention, nor the telos of anything. They are dogs; i.e., a species in obligatory, constitutive historical, protean relationship with human beings."
Haraway tries to write, sometimes in the face of a complex reality that is hard to translate into prose, the myriad of connections, associations and relationships that make up every encounter with a "significant other" of another species. Her sometime failure to clearly articulate these encounters proves her point. We have to recognise that we will always fail to understand the other species, but also that this is what drives us to continue trying.
"The recognition that one cannot know the other or the self, but must ask in respect for all of time who and what are emerging in relationship, is the key. That is so for all true lovers, whatever the species."
Part of why I like Haraway's inquiry, is that her personal choice, which is also my choice, to have dogs, not children, simmers under the surface of her exploration of her own relationship with dogs. She resists being called 'mom' to her dogs because she wants to avoid the "misidentification of the important fact that I wanted dogs, not babies". While I have given up resisting the 'mama' label, the distinction is important to me, too. Haraway quotes Linda Weissman:
"While my dogs can love me (I think), I have never had an interesting political conversation with any of them. On the other hand, while my children talk, they lack the true 'animal' sense that allows me to touch, however briefly, the 'being' of another species so different from my own with all the awe-inspiring reality that brings me." 
However, the relationship with dogs is not just about this ineffable otherness that we are allowed to touch in their presence, but about love. To Haraway, training her dogs is an act of love, as is her Manifesto, indeed, it flourishes between what she calls the "corporeal join between the material and the semiotic" that make up species distinctions in the first place.

Yet she is the first one to reject the many fantasies we have about our dogs, including the one about unconditional love. To engage with dogs is rather "about seeking to inhabit an inter-subjective world that is about meeting the other is all the fleshy detail of a mortal relationship". This is what attracts me, who usually deals with the semiotic, to dogs: the inevitability of the material in our interaction.

Some of the most interesting parts of Haraway's little book is her consideration of the co-evolution of dogs and humans. She sees it as a two-way process, where the distinction between natural and artificial selection, as well as between nature and culture is a false one. "There is no time or place at which genetics ends and environment begins..." Both species have influenced the evolution of the other.
"It is a mistake to see the alterations of dogs' bodies and minds as biological and the changes in humans bodies and lives as, for example in the emergence of herding or agricultural societies, as cultural, and so not about co-evolution. At the least, I suspect that human genomes contain a considerable molecular record of the pathogens of their companion species, including dogs."
To Haraway, this two-way interaction is continuing to this day, in a relationship of "reciprocal posession" that should guide us in the way we interact with dogs.
"In relationship, dogs and humans construct 'rights' in each other, such as the right to demand respect, attention and response [...] If I have a dog, my dog has a human; what that means is concretely at stake."
In my own theoretical and, importantly, practical explorations of canine behaviour and training, this is what I believe is important to remember - reciprocity. If you want to expect attention and response from your dog, he or she will need to have some attention and response from you.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Inspiration Award!

WOW! We (I and Eddie and Cassie, who by rights deserve some credit, too) are honoured to have been chosen for the Inspiration award by Hawk aka the Brown Dog. We were so pleased to hear his words of praise for What Dogs Do (click here to see what he said). Hawk writes a pretty darn good blog himself, writing about his experiences of play and training with his humans.

We’re all inspired by our fellow bloggers, so as part of the award we pass it on to ten blogs that have inspired What Dogs Do. It wasn’t an easy choice, there are so many good blogs out there. But nevertheless, below, in no particular order, are ten blogs that have inspired me. Click on their names to see them.

If you are here to pick up your award, there are a few simple rules that go with accepting this award.

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded this to you.

2. Link posts by you and ten fellow bloggers that you find inspirational.

3. Forward the award to those ten fellow bloggers.

The What Dogs Do Inspiration Awards go to:

Never Say Never Greyhounds
Truly inspirational for me as a greyhound owner, Jennifer competes with her hounds in obedience and agility – not sports you associate with ex-racing dogs! She uses clicker training and shares her wisdom in informative and well-illustrated posts, as well as some amusing ones on greyhound life.

I love this blog for its absolutely amazing photos. Every time I visit it is a feast for the eye, especially for the greyhound lover’s eye, but there are plenty of other doggies there too.

Have to mention a fellow blogger from the UK – we’re not that many yet. Fun posts and beautiful pictures from the life of another happy retired racing greyhound.

Lots of pretty pictures of two very pretty whippets. Yes, I am biased towards sight-hounds – here are some of my greyhounds' smaller cousins!

Fantastic blog about the life of a rescued Australian Kelpie – Sage’s owner informs us these are the most energetic of the herding breed – and boy, is Sage up to some great adventures, chronicled here.

Not just dogs – here is a beautiful blog about adorable dogs Alanis and Miro, a load of chickens, and other occasional visiting animals on a farm.

Very informative blog on dog health. A real treasure trove of information about doggie healthcare, disease, veterinary practice and other canine issues.

A long-running blog featuring greyhounds (and a german sheperd)– one of the blogs that inspired me to set up my own. Lovely photos and great stories form the lives of Blueberry, Bunny, Lilac and Morgan.
I love big dogs, so I love to hear about what is going on in Mayli’s life. She is a beautiful labradane, and her blog chronicles her far more happy adventures with new humans, after being found abandoned in a McDonald’s parking lot!
A greyhound in NYC – having greys in a big city myself, it is always “greyt” to read what other big-city hounds get up to. It is a real inspiration to read that it IS possible to give a big dog a good home even in the big Apple!

Thanks again to Hawk and all you bloggers out there that have inspired What Dogs Do. 

Problems Posting Comments

I have known from friends that they have had problems posting comments on my blog, and have worried how many people that I don't know have tried unsuccessfully! 

Saw this PSA on the Never Say Never Greyhounds blog, and it made sense - turns out people have problems posting comments on Blogger blogs if comments are set to "Embed below post". 

I have now changed the settings on my blog. Check out the above post on NSN Greyhounds for a how-to, if you are a blogger with the same problem.

Please do come back and comment if you can, would love to hear from you!


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Recall - Videos

Here are some videos I took today of me recalling my dogs. These videos illustrate some of the points I made in my epic three-part missive on recall, which you can read here: Part IPart IIPart III.

Few recalls are perfect. What is important, however, is not to give up, but insist that the dogs complete the recall, and come right up to you and get their treat. If they don't do you haven't really added to their conditioning. That is why, in the video below I keep on pestering Eddie to come right to me, even though he has already come near me. His attention is still diverted, and I want him to really connect to me to complete the recall. I actually give his bottom a little tap in the end. 

Conditioning works like a bucket of probability, the more successful repetitions of a command you add to it, the more likely your dog is to come back next time. Unfortunately, this bucket also leaks, so you are unlikely to get to 100%, and if you stop adding to it, it's level goes down. That is why I incorporate several very easy recalls, like the one in the video below where the dogs are likely to listen to me and succeed, in every walk, every day. I'm keeping the bucket topped up.

I also often reward, both with treat and also cuddles and play, the pure fact that my dogs are keeping near me. I want to imprint on them that keeping close to me means good things happen. However, sometimes, especially when you have fast dogs predisposed to chasing like greyhounds, you have to give your dogs a bit of trust. In the video below they have both just rushed off into the woods chasing some real or imaginary prey. I usually give them a while, but very soon start calling them back. It seems like a long time for them to come back, but actually it is less than a minute, which considering I have given them a minute to run, is about right. I try to always call them right back to me if they run out of sight, conditioning them to return to me after every big chase. 

We're joining the wonderful Blog Hop again this Saturday! Thank you to the blog hop hosts Life With Dogs, Two Little Cavaliers and Confessions of the Plume. If you'd like to participate, please follow the rules and follow your three hosts, add your blog to the Linky and copy and paste the html code.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Recall - Part III

As you may have realized by the length of this three-part post on recall, getting my dogs to come back to me is a big part of my life with them. I have ex-racing greyhounds and not only are they naturally predisposed, as well as trained, to chase, but they are also very fast. There is no way I can catch them if they decide to run away. I simply have to persuade them to come back to me.

However, even if I employ all the tricks I talked about in Part I to make myself interesting to my dogs, I will quite probably never succeed against thousands of years of breeding and the fact that they spent the first years of their lives chasing for a living. I have accepted that faced with a squirrel, my dogs will most certainly chase it whatever I say or do. This means two things to my recall training. First of all, I simply do not let them off the leash in places where chasing could pose a danger to them. Second, I have tried to teach them to come back and “check in” with me immediately after a chase. Although Eddie is up to speed with this, I am still working on it with Cassie. However, I have to remind myself sometimes that we have had Eddie a whole year longer than Cassie, and conditioning behaviour takes time.

Indeed, it is partly through my trials and errors when training recall with my greyhounds that I have come to the conclusion that conditioning is the way to succeed. Conditioning, with a good dose of patience and persistence. With both my dogs I have at times felt like I have been hitting my head against a brick wall, and thought that the only way to get them to come back must be extreme punitive measures, such as a shock collar, which ultimately I could not justify. They were just too fast and too far away and too excited by the world around them. How would I ever get through to them? I went back to more intense correction on-leash, using a rattle-can (more on which elsewhere) when they tried to chase, shouting and yanking them back. Although this had some success when they were on the leash, as soon as they were off they were chasing, and apparently uninterested in coming back to me until they were well and truly exhausted.

I have since realized that I was making the classic mistake that I talked about in Part II, of not providing enough positive incentive for my dogs to come back, in addition to giving them plenty of dis-incentive (the corrections). Besides, a greyhound’s prey instinct is so strong that it will ignore quite a lot of discomfort and pain (even fractures) to continue the chase. I don’t think that even shock collars would make much difference, actually. No, the tactics had to change completely.

I upped the ante with my treats and, in Cassie’s case, toys. I also intensified the frequency with which I repeated recall. I did not wait until they were off in the woods chasing – that is setting them up to fail, and serves no conditioning purpose – but recalled and rewarded frequently at home, on leash, when they were nearby and so on. I also rewarded them for simply sticking close to me. The idea I was trying to implant deep in their brains was that being close to mama means nice things happen.

I also recently realized that I had done a lot of this rewarding for being close with Eddie, without even thinking, when I only had him, giving him treats and cuddles. It is easier to give a lot of attention to one dog, rather than two, of course. When I got Cassie, however, because the work with Ed was already done, I somehow thought it had come naturally. I had to remind myself to give Cassie as much attention as I had given Eddie. However, I also had to remember that conditioning takes time. It does not happen over night, but involves many repetitions, over and over again. It took Eddie almost a year to become the devoted and reliable dog that never strays very far from me, that he is today.

With Cassie, using the toy was an important step, but became a hindrance as I began using it as a lure, rather than reward, as well as providing too much of a distraction once she was allowed to play (more on which here). I cut right back down on using it, and increased my frequency of giving her especially tasty treats. Cassie is also a much more high-energy dog, and my recall has had to become more energetic. She responds better to high-pitch calls and enthusiastic noises. Her attention is easily swayed so she simply needs something more intense keep her focused. This has worked wonders. A dog that before was quite unpredictable, and kept disappearing, is now coming back with enthusiasm in most cases, as well as keeping much closer on walks in general. We are also coming up to the one-year anniversary of Cassie coming to live with us. Again, I can only stress that conditioning takes time, especially with rescue dogs, with a whole different kind of life behind them.

As I said, however, I know that when they spot prey, nothing will stop them. I have therefore worked on teaching them that the end of a hunt equals recall. I started this at the very early stages of the training process. After they had been distracted by something in the garden, or tried to chase something when on-leash I immediately recalled. Still do. Every time. I yet have some way to go with Cassie. She becomes obsessively focused on the spot where she has lost the prey – usually the tree that the squirrel has scampered up. It is difficult to shake her out of this obsession. Sometimes I simply have to take her on the leash and walk her away for a while until she has forgotten about the squirrel. I am hoping this acts as a dis-incentive in itself, but I wonder if it is immediate enough for her to make the connection – if I don’t come I get put on the leash.

At the moment I am simply continuing with intense recall conditioning with her, and I am clearly making inroads into her mind. Hopefully at some point the association of my call to pleasant treat will be so ingrained that she comes reflexively, even when obsessing about that squirrel. Maybe she simply has to realize that standing by the tree is not much fun in the long run. Eddie has understood that the squirrel is not going to come down from the tree, and that he has far more to gain by heeding me. If anyone has any other tips or tricks on how to wake a greyhound from its squirrel reverie, please do let me know!

The most important conclusion I have come to regarding recall is perhaps that it is an ongoing process. Your dogs will soon cotton on if they stop being rewarded for coming back. If you are no longer the fun person with the treats and toys, they will look elsewhere for entertainment. Indeed, in order to have dogs that reliably come back to you, you have to modify not only your dog’s behaviour but your own, too. Conditioning is not about training obedience, but about setting up a pattern of behaviour – human and canine – that is conducive to a mutually pleasant coexistence. If you want your dog to be your friend, you have to be theirs. 

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Recall - Part II

In Part I of my musings on recall I talked about the importance of providing your dog with a good reason to come back. Your dog won’t come back when you call, unless you provide them with something more interesting than what they are doing at the time. This something will vary according to what exactly your dog is up to, usually determined by environment. Your dog is likely to come to you for cuddles only if he or she is moping about at home, doing nothing in particular. If they are in the park chasing a squirrel the game has to be considerably (sometimes impossibly) raised. However, if you can convince your dog early on that you are the giver of immensely tasty treats (or very fun games) you will have a fighting chance as your exit your front door.

With puppies as well as with rescue dogs the very first step is therefore to condition your dog that calling their name and “come here” equals good stuff. The word conditioning, I have learned, is operative here. You basically want to play Pavlov, and by relentless repetition of event and consequence imprint it deep in your dog’s behavioural matrix that coming to you is good. It should become a reflex action that your dog runs to you when he hears your call.

Let me state right out that you are unlikely to succeed at the conditioning venture I have just set out at a hundred percent. You may, but you probably won’t. However, the more you condition your dog to your recall, the more often your dog will come back to you. In addition, it is important to realize that conditioning is not finished just because the dog has understood the idea that he or she gets a treat when returning to you. Dogs learn that very quickly, but the simple fact of learning something does not mean that a dog will perform the learned behaviour with the regularity that you most probably want recall to occur. That is why you need to go down the conditioning route, and the one big trick to achieve successful conditioning is repetition. Frequent, consequent, continuous, relentless, ad nauseam repetition.

Start at home with tasty morsels or a favourite toy. Usually at this stage most dogs will respond to food. Perform the following action: call the dogs name and your chosen “come here” command, and when the dog does so reward immediately with a treat and lots of praise. For ways of getting your dogs attention and enticing them to you see Part I. This shouldn’t be too hard unless you are working with a nervous or fearful dog, but these should be treated as separate cases, which I want to consider elsewhere.

Repeat the action at home at varying times, in various places and with various things going on around the dog. Begin by being very close to your dog, rewarding even that the dog simply pays you attention. Also begin in calm situations where there are few distractions. Only when the dog is coming to you almost every time you call should you move on to more challenging situations. It is important not to set your dog up to fail. He or she does not learn that coming back equals treat from failure, only from success. You will probably find, that your dog responds and appears to learn the command very quickly at this stage. You can raise the stakes quite soon – different rooms, more people around, in the garden and so on. Remember to reward every time, most often with treats, but also with praise. Never let a successful recall go unnoticed.

Once your dog clearly understands the concept of recall, you can also start incorporating some training on your walks. Although you may try it if the dog is loose in a safe space, like a dog park, I would recommend to start doing the main part of the training on-leash at this stage. The worst things you could do now is either to end up chasing your dog, turning your recall command to a cue for a fun game of tag, or get frustrated and angry at your dog failing to return to you and start shouting. The latter is very important. One, because why on earth would a dog want to come back to an angry shouting person, and two, because, especially if you tell you dog off when they have finally come back, you are conditioning your dog that recall equals unpleasant stuff. Be careful not to sabotage your own work.

I therefore find it very effective to do initial recall training outdoors with the dog on a standard length leash. While walking, when your dog is at leash-length away from you, call him or her back and reward. Continue walking and repeat several, indeed many, times during the walk. Again, start with less distracting environments and build it up. The benefit of training recall on leash is that you can incorporate some correction. Although the mainstay of your training should be conditioning through positive reinforcement, a gentle tug on the leash can help to get your dog’s attention. Two important notes here, though. Do not rely on this tug. Eventually you will want your dog to return in situations where you cannot tug them. If you find you have to tug every time, you need to do more work at home or in quieter environments. Also, always make your corrective “noise” of choice (no, ah-ah, leave, etc) just before tugging. In this way, you are continuing the conditioning of this noise as a prequel to something unpleasant which happens if the dog does not heed you. I want to talk about correction in depth elsewhere, but needless to say you would rather the dog respond to a correction noise than a tug or other negative reinforcement.

Remember, however, your dog will be conditioned only when succeeding, so you must ensure that you perform the training in such a way that he or she does. Only when you are sure that your success rate is high without corrections move on to more challenging environments. However, do not abandon your work in the “easier” situations, the more times your dog successfully returns to you and gets a treat the more likely he or she is to do it again. Don’t abandon trials outside if they at first fail, but intensify your work at home or in the garden. Equally, keep on doing a lot of work on-leash, even when you have reached the stage of letting your dog off in safe environments. Every step builds on the earlier one, it does not replace it. Yes, eventually you can lay off repeating recall at home quite so much, when you are happy with the dog’s performance. However, I still ensure that if I do call my dogs at home they are always rewarded, with treats, play or cuddles.

I have also done work with longer leashes with my dogs. This is an intermediate step which I have found useful as you can retain the correction element, and stay safe whilst pushing the dog on distance. A word of caution, long training leashes should be used carefully to avoid injury to dog and handler. They are not for normal “walking”. Also, be very careful with long leads, especially flexi-leads on sight-hounds, they can take off very powerfully and quickly and can injure their necks, not to say dislocate your arm.

At some point your dog will respond so often to your call when on leash that you will feel that it is ready to come off it. And, unless you want to keep your dog on the leash forever, you have to try it sometime. You will most likely experience a sharp dip in the reliability of your dog’s recall at this stage. You have suddenly opened up a whole new world of excitement for the dog, and you therefore may have to up the stakes on being exciting yourself. This is where you may need to apply all the things I considered in Part I – toys, games, yodeling, running about. I repeat, make yourself a being that your dog wants to spend time with, and it will come.

Remember that conditioning works by continuous repetition, so don’t stop the work you do at home and on-leash. You may scale it back when your are happy with your dog’s recall off-leash, but I always do a few recall exercises while my dogs are on leash to keep them reminded of the goodies that await if they come back when called. Let them know that you are the guy with ham in your pocket, or the mama with the squeaky, and they will want to be around you.

In Part III of my musings on recall I will continue to consider conditioning and its role in recall, but also to what extent it is feasible to expect “perfect” recall, and what to remember if you don’t or can't.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Recall - Part I

While I haven’t been blogging for some time I have been busy working on that most difficult of training tasks for greyhound owners, recall. I have written previously about the importance of finding the right motivation for your dog, and how my Cassie’s love for squeakies both helped and hindered her recall training. Here I like to bring together some of my thoughts on recall training, for greyhounds as well as other dogs. In part one I will consider some of the basic premises for recall, while in part two I want to look at the practical measures I have used with my dogs. In part three I discuss some problems and extra considerations I have.

The key to making your dog come back to you when you call them is to give them a good reason to. Even though your dog may love you, or respect you as a pack leader, or simply know you are the source of warmth and food, dogs live in the present and in the present, especially when in the park, there are a myriad of things competing for their attention. When there are smells and sounds to be explored, other dogs and even prey around, why would your dog choose to give those up immediately and come to you, a human they know well and have access to most of the time?

Simply put, you must find the thing that trumps all other interesting things going on, and makes your dog run back to you. Dogs may have small brains and short attention spans, but they are fairly consequent creatures, and like all of us, have no great wish to do things that are boring and have no discernible benefit to themselves. Would you?

There is also the possibility of negative reinforcement, that is, some kind of correction or punishment if the dog does not heed your call. However, while some negative reinforcement has its place at the very early stages of recall training, when the dog is still on the leash, it is not a strategy that can be relied on in the long run. At some point your dog will be off leash, and too far away for you to touch it, and it will know it.

There are, of course, a couple of “remote” correction alternatives. One is the electric shock collar, which I would not advocate unless it was a matter of life and death for the dog to respond to recall. Even so, as I will come on to, recall training never ends, and reinforcements, whether negative or positive, must be continued, and the prospect of relying on such extreme measures as an electric shock collar indefinitely is not an attractive one.

There are also remote control spray collars, which squirt water or citronella when the owner presses a button. I have found that these have limited effect. While worth trying, I think it is a fairly weak deterrent, one which the dog chooses to live with if there is something interesting enough to explore (or chase) rather than coming back to the owner. Plus, repeated use is likely to desensitize the dog to the spray anyway, so you are in any case forced to rely on positive reinforcement in the long run.

That is, and I stress it again, for a reliable, life-long recall, you must provide, and continue to provide, a good enough reason for your dog to come to you. There are a tonne of things working against you, however. The human voice at a normal tone is not particularly exciting or meaningful for a dog. The words “come here” mean nothing in particular. The average adult human standing or walking is not an engaging creature for a dog. Why stand or walk next to them if you could be running, playing, sniffing or chasing? Being put on a leash and taken home is no fun, and being told off for not coming back immediately is even less popular. Indeed, it is a wonder that dogs choose to come back to their owners at all.

Luckily, us humans are clever and dexterous enough to make ourselves interesting, but it takes some effort. Standing stock still and mumbling, “come here, Fido” will rarely cut it. However, as I have noted elsewhere, different dogs will respond to different things, and you need to find what motivates your dog. Many dogs, of course, are motivated by food. Some are pickier than others, but I think most dogs will appreciate some variety. I wouldn’t expect dry old doggy biscuits to be or continue to be enticing to any but the most greedy dogs. The tastier the treat the better, and changing flavours always keeps those taste buds alert. Smelly, wet treats are always good: ham, sausage, cheese. The stuff that your dog wants to eat in your house but isn’t allowed to. You also need to make sure that the dog knows that you have a treat and you intend to give it only if he or she comes back to you – but more about these practicalities in part two.

Dogs that are less food motivated will need the incentive of a fun activity, such as playing with a toy or with you as a reward for coming back. Again, it is important, as I myself discovered with Cassie, to make sure the play is understood as a reward for coming back, not used as a bribe. A short game of tug of war, a few chews on the squeaky, a run after the ball. The difficulty is keeping the reward a reward, and not turning it into play controlled by the dog - running away with the toy. The game must stop, so that it can become an enticement yet again. 

In addition, you should make yourself more interesting to the dog: make yourself into something to explore, or even impossible to ignore. Indeed, the promise of treats or play alone won’t always work. If the dog is preoccupied by something else interesting you need to get their attention, and your best bet is your voice and your body. High pitched, loud noses work best to catch a dog’s attention, so use a falsetto voice, repeat their name with variation, warble, yodel and whistle. Sometimes, sharp a sharp “oi!” or a hissing “pssst” will jolt the dog out of their reverie over a particularly fragrant spot of grass. You can’t let embarrassment get in the way, if you want your dog to be interested in you.

Use your body, too. Wave your arms, slap your thighs, crouch down with open arms, run away, dig a hole, and even the old favourite tip, play dead. All or any of these are likely to be much more interesting than simply standing there immobile. When your dog is on his or her way to you, keep encouraging them with your voice and body – become an inviting and exciting goal to run toward. And, of course, reward with treat or play immediately on arrival. Don’t forget the praise and the pats either. Once recall is learned, sometimes these will be enough, but they should always be profuse. Give them a good cuddle and a happy voice – make an impression on your dog that coming to you is fun, enjoyable and rewarded. And, as importantly as making this impression, is keep on making it. Dogs adapt to new circumstance very quickly, and won't be made fools of for very long - if the treats, play and praise stops, so will the "obedience". Indeed, this is why I dislike the word obedience - if you are working towards having a dog that obeys commands you will always be working against the grain. If you, however, learn how to be an interesting creature for your dog to be with, you will find that they enjoy being and working with you, and importantly, coming back to you.

However, before you even get to the stage where you let your dog off the leash and hope for the best, there is some ground work to be done. In Part II of my musings on recall I will consider some of the practical steps to be taken.