Really Rubbish Recall and Regression

After Marleys new blog yesterday evening i thought i best take a look at Marley as though he was a customers dog. It can be really easy to just take a casual training approach with my own dogs. Bits and pieces here and there, usually does the trick as im lucky Marley loves to learn and train. However we have had a few rubbish days since the Great Grey Gathering. He lunged at a person for the first time in a month (possibly longer)

It wasn’t a quick swipe at a hand but a full on hind legs barking and lunging. It made no sense, it was at a woman minding her own business. I should add that Marley currently wears a figure of eight. For safety we have 2 choices, figure of eight or a muzzle when onlead. He is a tricky boy and finding his exact trigger with people will always remain a mystery, i am aware him lunging is very intimidating to some people, and with recent changes to the law we feel eliminating alot of the lunging is best option to minimize upset with public. Particularly as where we live there are alot of children, usually on bikes, scooters etc which can trigger him (albeit rarely now!) and i dont want a child to get muzzle punched by him if in close enough quarters. I have a higher level of control with the figure of 8, and it gives us both more confidence.

As well as reacting to the woman he reacted to several medium sized breeds in an explosive manner. He simply has not done this for months. I had to have a chat with a few friends and realised hes getting less exercise with the rain, and less socialising. As well as this i reflected on the Great Gathering. It was a cramped occassion, far more so than any other fun dog show we have been to. At all times there were dogs within his safe space. I assumed it was the sighthound effect, he loves them! And i think that could not have happened unless they were sighthounds. However neither of us were 100% with the lack of space. All credit to him, he only reacted to a single grey who dared to sniff his bottom while he was doing a “touch”. It may have been too much for him, thankfully few fun dog shows we attend are so lacking in space. It may actually finally be just an extinction burst. When dogs are learning alot of new behaviours and responses , old behaviour patterns can come to the fore. This is very normal and as long as there is consistency the dog will come out of it as they were before.

With this in mind i took Marley out today with a ball launcher to exert extra energy, he’d never been too keen on balls or ball launchers until our guest Elf took a liking to them- Marley thinks they are great now! So he whippet off after this ball a dozen times then decided it was naff. I have noticed in the last 7 months something has changed along with Marleys confidence..his recall has gone to pot! He used to stick by me like a little lost sheep, now he bowls over fields without a care for me, as he ran towards a branch in the middle of a field today with the kind of curiosity he does when he is stuck between fight or flight with a dog i called him back…to no avail! One of my favourite things Marley can do is respond like lightning to recall…yet he completely ignored me! Recall is one of the most important things you can teach a reactive dog in my opinion. Recall could be the difference between your dog not noticing a trigger, stop approaching a trigger or recalling at that very last moment or ignoring it and going for a dog or person.

Some may suggest such dogs should never be offlead anyway, so why teach a recall? Because management fails, and so does equipment. Earlier this year we had an incident with a workman at our house, he decided he needed to be outside, which is where we keep Marley when essential work needs to be done. So i quickly popped him on lead and stood in corner of garden, this was about 6 months ago. He began barking and lunging , which was no surpise he was still heavily reactive to men at this time, and anyone on his property. One second everything was under control, the next he was at his leg barking and air snapping. The lead had snapped clean. I was holding one end and the other was still on his harness. This is what prompted me to begin muzzling marley when anyone was around for the first month. His muzzle was the only safe option. In emergencies it can be hard to think but 90% of people would react by shouting their dogs name. Foolishly i didn’t, instead trying to shout to my mum and the workman as marley sped over- i cant outrun a whippet! Had i called his name he would have stopped, he always had a good response to me. I never would have expected that to occur, and that is what your recall needs to be ready for. Those unexpected moments.

So this afternoon i began practising our favourite recall game. It involves me calling Marley, and when he gets to me dropping a few small treats and running off calling him, treating him when he gets to me following the call and dropping a few smalls treats, and running off again. He used to be a whizz at this game…well this did not occur this afternoon :O
He blew me off several times! And dawdled his way to a recall! To say i was unimpressed is an understatement. We have ALOT of work to do. He will not run off when offlead, so he will not be kept to a long line ( as he just tangles himself and being a whippet- and a pathetic one at that!- he gets bruises and cuts all over himself) however he will be expected to check in more frequently.

So we have begun more work. When offlead i am not going in a straight line, forever zig zagging and changing direction. Think i will have to pull out the clicker again and mark him moving with me (we had phased out clicker for recall and attentiveness on walks). We throw treats into distance and go opposite way, sometimes throw them in the air. As well as this i will be using the famous green squeaky ball as part of his training as a reward for coming back. As well as this we will be using a higher variety of treats and building more motivation for training and toys… but thats an entirely different post!

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