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February 22, 2018

It took several weeks into an online dog training class that I'm taking with Clover for me to gain some insights into why I sometimes fail in my training efforts with her. That doesn't mean the answers and solutions will be easy, but I see things more clearly now. Eureka moments in dog training just ahead.


You might think surely a person like me KNOWS how to teach a dog to come when called. Right? And, I thought so too until Clover's recall got progressively worse after she hit adolescence. I joke that the photo below sums up the recall situation at Chez Champion of My Heart perfectly. Look who is coming happily. Look who is doing her own thing. 

2 dogs being recalled, one better than the other

I spent a lot of money over 2 years on another online recall training program, and it didn't help at all. 

Now that I'm several weeks into this new online recall class (just 6 weeks long), where I paid extra to be able to submit training videos for the instructor to critique, so much of what has gone wrong in the past is making sense to me. 

Clover is WAY, WAY, WAY more sensitive to "pressure" than I ever imagined. The reasons the other training plan upset her (even though it was all based on games) was that the games were way too intense. Some of them even felt like a "correction" to her because they focused SO much on impulse control, which is already one of Clover's strengths. The games were meant for a VERY different kind of dog. 

Momma is very sorry, Clover. 

We can fix this. 

So, I'm completely rebuilding Clover's recall from the ground up, including a totally new / weird recall word -- KIWI -- that we've been introducing over the last week. 

Thanks to keen questions about what has worked (and NOT) in the past, along with careful observation of our videos, our new online instructor has helped me see how to adjust and customize our training so that Clover does NOT feel pressured.

Insight #1?

Clover much prefers to play "alone." I can sometimes get her to play with me, but not often and not consistently. I'll be honest. It hurts my feelings.

There are classes I could take to learn to how play with Clover in a way that doesn't stress her, but right now, that's not my focus. 

For this new recall class, I've only played to figure out what she likes and does NOT like so that we can make good decisions for her recall training. 

Whereas Tori is FOREVER throwing toys at us and trying to get us to play with her. 

Clover much prefers solo play, despite what you see in the video below. She is much more likely to grab a toy and run away rather than toward me. Granted, I chased her a lot as a puppy because she thought it was funny, but I still believe it's her natural play style, or we would have played a lot more together this whole time. (Can you believe Clover will be 4 years old at the end of May?!)

I've tried to play this same game after making this video with ZERO luck, so for now, I've stopped trying to develop this skill ... even though I spent a small fortune on new toys.

Part of Clover's preference stems from her sensitivity and independence. Especially in a training or working scenario, she needs space and does NOT want to be touched or handled.

It's weird because Clover is also the most SNUGGLY dog I've ever had in my life. She cuddles like you would NOT believe, in the evenings and first thing in the morning. It is the most earnest and amazing expression of LOVE you've ever seen. It's so sweet it practically breaks my heart.

So, why does a dog who loves me that much not come when I ask?


We've figured out that the more space and physical independence I can give her, the happier she is in a training situation. We also know that's why she likes being outside so much. Clover is a RURAL girl who likes open spaces.

A reward is ONLY a reward, if it's something the dog actually likes (versus what we think they should like).

We're now using that to our advantage with her recall work. For major safety reasons, we're ONLY working OFF-LEASH on our fully fenced property at this point. Clover has shown interest in chasing cars, which terrifies me, so even when her recall improves, we'll have to be VERY, VERY careful where she is allowed to be off leash.

Right now, this realization about how to speak Clover's language better is paying off with Clover choosing ME over other options when we are outside. 

Here is an example from earlier this week.  

Clover and Tori LOVE to sprint to the front gate and back, so it's entirely possible that NOT having Tori with her is the reason Clover did not race off even when I gave her permission. 

But, we're seeing this more and more in training, where Clover chooses me ... as long as I interact with her on HER TERMS. We have NOT introduced many distractions yet because we're still laying a foundation, but honestly, even being out front of the house is a big deal to Clover, and yet she is working hard, not running off to look at cars on the road (through the fence), etc.


There is a chance the work we're doing on recalls will also pay off with our ongoing struggle with loose-leash walking since Clover will be learning to stay within a certain perimeter from me on walks. Fingers crossed!

Agility too?

I sincerely hope that my fresh insight into Clover will also help us work through things that have NOT been going well in our agility training (for almost 2 years now).

That's harder though because agility is harder, and the training is done on a limited time-clock in front of other people (versus me and Clover outside at home). I feel more pressure in agility, so I'm sure that translates to more pressure for Clover too. 

BUT, since I've already re-taught her the teeter-totter for the THIRD TIME (before our recall class even started) by giving Clover ALL THE POWER to make her own decisions, I'm hopeful. 

Yay us!

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Amazing work
    I have 2,1year old dogs who play fight all the time which can lead to them both running all round the house after each other, don’t know what to do with him.

    1. Honestly, Daisy — My girls do the same thing (race around the house). When possible, I put them outside in the “back yard” to run around together to burn some energy. Or, if they need to stay inside, then I kind of let them be wild in the house. It typically only lasts about 30 minutes, and as long as they aren’t making a total mess, I let them do it. I’ve gotten really good at working even with them running around. Even after an hour-long walk, they will sometimes wrestle for another 30 minutes before settling down. It’s just what they need, so I allow it.

  2. It sounds as if you’re taking the same recall class as I did with Chrissi at Fenzi? I took it last August, and it changed our world. I had the same issue of Shyla being stressed by some things that I thought would be fun for her. I learned so much in that class – and it sounds like you are too! We chose a new recall word, and I say it in a sing song voice *every single time* so that my voice can’t transmit stress to Shyla. If I leave out the sing song voice, Shyla seems to not recognize the cue. Perfect for training *me*!

    Wow, I’m so thrilled that you’re taking that class!

    1. Yes. Exactly, KB. We’re doing the recall class with Chrissi, and it’s helping SO much. I’m glad to hear it helped you with Shyla too. One of our GOLD classmates is also sing-songing her recall word for similar reasons. So smart. I would not have thought of it on my own, but it make total sense for keeping stress out of your voice.

  3. I can get our german shepherd girl Cheyenne who is 2 to come to me if I bend down and squat (which is not always the easiest in all circumstances) and say if come fun like. Even with her high prey drive, she will leave whatever she is doing and come. I did not train her this way, this just happened to be the only way I could figure out how to get her to focus on me.

    1. YES !! That’s one of the things we experiment with in this class is what BODY POSITION matters to your dog. Some don’t care what you’re doing, but some sensitive dogs DO FEEL BETTER about coming when asked if you bend down like that.

  4. Reading this post and watching the videos has started me thinking about Ducky. Her recall in the backyard is about 65-75%, which really isn’t bad considering we haven’t done much “formal” training with her. I’m thinking maybe – like Clover – she just wants/needs more space and less handling during training AND rewards she really likes. (Time to cook some some chicken thighs in the Instant Pot to chop up and freeze/use immediately. She loves chicken.)

    1. Your chicken plan sounds AWESOME. I do not have an Instant Pot, but I know people who do & love them. We’ve figured out that Clover doesn’t need a TON of extra space, but she does have a much more RELAXED body and face and attitude when we are outside vs inside. So interesting when you really tune into what your dog is trying to convey … rather than just what you’re trying to teach.

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