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When Your Dog Won't Come: An Expert's Solution

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September 16, 2009

When Your Dog Won't Come: An Expert's Solution

By David DiBenedetto

Today I’m pulling a letter from the Man’s Best Friend reader mailbag. It’s a question I hear often and a problem I’ve experienced myself. Here’s the letter:

I have a 4-month-old yellow lab. The question I have is how do you command the dog once the check cord is off. When we are outside training with the check cord on, Ginger is pretty good with sit, stay, come. When we take her outside to go to the bathroom she doesn’t listen at all. It’s like she knows the check cord is off and does whatever she wants. Sometimes she won’t acknowledge her name. I know the answer to my question is when we take her outside we should always have the check cord on. I just want to know how to break her of this.

To get an answer I spoke with Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Miss. Stewart practices positive conditioning (no e-collar, etc.) and is known to produce some of the finest trained Labradors in the field. With the young dogs, he spends an enormous amount of time building patience, discipline, focus, and recall while instilling a relationship that fosters a biddable nature. Stewart normally gives a pup only three or four retrieves a week! You’ll notice his training philosophy runs counter to much of the typical advice given on the subject. Here’s just a snippet of what he had to say:

Don’t set your expectations too high for a 4-month old pup. Their attention span is short and they always opt for whatever is most interesting. Keep your distances for recall short, enthusiastic and always have a reward ready for proper behavior.

I don’t use check cords. It’s a crutch and dogs learn, as your dog has, to behave one way when the check cord is attached and quite another when free. I would be totally focused on teaching the pup his name, developing eye contact, and developing patient behavior before a reward is received such as food or a retrieve.

Begin by getting your pup accustomed to coming to the whistle for a small treat. Condition this behavior to the point of habit, anytime, anywhere. Detach the check cord and replace it with a steady tab, a short lead about 8 inches long that can be used when necessary. Really, I don’t ever have my pups at 4 months old off lead very often, only for airing, a short retrieve, and maybe to hunt a bit of cover for a tennis ball. Otherwise the pup is on lead with me all the time. Soon my pup realizes everything good occurs with me —affection, treat, a retrieve.

Start over with your pup practicing recalls for treats. Introduce the whistle. Provide lots of exercise for your puppy before the training session and do not put your pup in the situation where he can be out of control. Get him off the crutch of a check cord as soon as possible.

I’ll admit that I had never heard a check cord called a crutch, but if I’ve learned one thing from the training process it’s that you must find what works for you and use it. And if you’ve ever seen one of Stewart’s dogs, you know his training methods work.

As always, I’m curious of your thoughts on the subject.

Comments (11)

Top Rated
All Comments
from SD_Whitetail_Hntr wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I appreciate all tips on dog training. Mostly because like you said, "..find what works for you and use it." So the more knowledge I have of techniques, the easier it is to see if my pup will adapt to certain techniques opposed to others. My dog teaches me 10 times what I teach him. I do like the idea of never using a check cord because it does create that bipolar attitude in many dogs. Positive reinforcement with very simple tasks to greatly reduce opportunity for failure in your pup makes the most sense to me, and from what I have seen, garnishes the most effective results. Just my 2 bits.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from pinopolis wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

great advice! especially the part about only doing a handful of retrieves a week. my pup def performs best when i keep tosses to a minimum.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 86Ram wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Well written article. I have a 14 week old Walker pup and she is all over the place comin out the pen however she settles down and comes to me when I call her. I incorporate animal scents with tennis balls and she readily chases them down.
I use alot of patience and positive reenforcement. She responds well. You can also get their attention by introducing them to a new sound (whistle, sigh etc) once you have eye to eye resume training.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

My last step utilizes the retrieve as a tool to teach steady after formal field work being taught to quarter, turn on the whistle,as well as come and hup in the field,worked on many wing clips to set the pattern and build the flush,and fliers to chase to excite the dog and to get him running,introduction to gun fire and retrieving all to hand.This is what I call a started dog and I stress started the dog.There will be plenty of times at this level even though you can shoot birds and the dog will retrieve to hand but the excitement generated from wild game birds will override this level of training and the dog wont respond to your commands.The finish work I use utilizes the retrieve to steady the dog.Its a gradual,gentle process to end up with a dog with all the style,spirit and pace you started with.I start with as I said in previous blogs with a Remmington canvas buck if my dog breaks he is gently restrained and brought back to where he was hupped,and I do the retrieve myself until he is and understands steady.Then cold dead birds then live birds.On alternate days I do field work with live wing clips to counter balance the control thats being put on the dog and keep his desire to run.As time goes on he becomes more reliably steady and all previous lessions that have been taught get sharper as they are continually gone over.Once the dog is reliably steady to thrown wing clips with shots fired and birds flushed off the ground 1 flier for every 2 or three wing clips to maintain the flush only being alloud to retrieve shot birds he remained steady for.Only a couple of times retrieving a week and no check cord would blow my program out of the water.This is were my Springer is now and I could not imagine it with no retrieve or check cord.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blitz wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I am curious if Stewart uses a check cord in other parts of the training process...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hattles wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I have watched Mike Stewart train Drake the DU Lab for some years and enjoy his dog training tips. That said, I wish I had these tips available when I had my Gordon Setter. He was wonderful and a quick learner, until he was free from the lead. What a major change. I might add, that if your dog doesn't come, always go to the dog if you plan on any kind of discipline...they will equate the discipline the same way they equate the reward.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave DiBenedetto wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

hattles, That's a great point and one that Mike also made but I didn't have room to include. In the learning stages he mentions never calling the dog to reprimand, medicate, etc. for the same reason you mentioned--they equate the negative with the command.

We'll be hearing some more great tips from Mike in future Man's Best Friend posts so stay tuned. -D

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from lcreece wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Our 7 month old Lab does the same "I don't know you" routine but what is working for me is to call his name, then if he looks up but doesn't immediately come, I turn and start to walk away. He then starts coming (at full speed) and when he gets to me I stop and praise him for coming.It may not work for every dog but he now comes much more consistently. He is still a lot puppy along with a great dog. Having our Boykin doing it right every time doesn't hurt as a role model!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from uklabs wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Great advice all around. Some very good tips on this blog. All very much in line with "The Wildrose Way." Blitz, I seldom use a check cord for the reasons stated. About the only case... a diehard runner. I might use a cord in a limited way with a bolter. Primarily, though, I try to eliminate the option for the pup to bounce off. Use rewards and build a habit. Check out other training tips and videos at www.uklabs.com. See training archives, the Wildrose Ducks Unlimited page, youtube link and I invite you all to join our subscribers' list and begin getting our free e-training newsletter. Register online when visiting our website. Best of luck!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 4 years 30 weeks ago

After the pattern is built without the check cord is great and the tab is great for my finishing work also thanks Dave.If he ranges to far I know how to fix it toss a bird out of the bag,hunt with the wind,bending,call with the whistle,etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nipples wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

I agree with kelmitch, I think it's more of making it a daily basis or a least something our friends will be used to do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from kelmitch wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

My last step utilizes the retrieve as a tool to teach steady after formal field work being taught to quarter, turn on the whistle,as well as come and hup in the field,worked on many wing clips to set the pattern and build the flush,and fliers to chase to excite the dog and to get him running,introduction to gun fire and retrieving all to hand.This is what I call a started dog and I stress started the dog.There will be plenty of times at this level even though you can shoot birds and the dog will retrieve to hand but the excitement generated from wild game birds will override this level of training and the dog wont respond to your commands.The finish work I use utilizes the retrieve to steady the dog.Its a gradual,gentle process to end up with a dog with all the style,spirit and pace you started with.I start with as I said in previous blogs with a Remmington canvas buck if my dog breaks he is gently restrained and brought back to where he was hupped,and I do the retrieve myself until he is and understands steady.Then cold dead birds then live birds.On alternate days I do field work with live wing clips to counter balance the control thats being put on the dog and keep his desire to run.As time goes on he becomes more reliably steady and all previous lessions that have been taught get sharper as they are continually gone over.Once the dog is reliably steady to thrown wing clips with shots fired and birds flushed off the ground 1 flier for every 2 or three wing clips to maintain the flush only being alloud to retrieve shot birds he remained steady for.Only a couple of times retrieving a week and no check cord would blow my program out of the water.This is were my Springer is now and I could not imagine it with no retrieve or check cord.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from SD_Whitetail_Hntr wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I appreciate all tips on dog training. Mostly because like you said, "..find what works for you and use it." So the more knowledge I have of techniques, the easier it is to see if my pup will adapt to certain techniques opposed to others. My dog teaches me 10 times what I teach him. I do like the idea of never using a check cord because it does create that bipolar attitude in many dogs. Positive reinforcement with very simple tasks to greatly reduce opportunity for failure in your pup makes the most sense to me, and from what I have seen, garnishes the most effective results. Just my 2 bits.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 86Ram wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Well written article. I have a 14 week old Walker pup and she is all over the place comin out the pen however she settles down and comes to me when I call her. I incorporate animal scents with tennis balls and she readily chases them down.
I use alot of patience and positive reenforcement. She responds well. You can also get their attention by introducing them to a new sound (whistle, sigh etc) once you have eye to eye resume training.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from pinopolis wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

great advice! especially the part about only doing a handful of retrieves a week. my pup def performs best when i keep tosses to a minimum.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hattles wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I have watched Mike Stewart train Drake the DU Lab for some years and enjoy his dog training tips. That said, I wish I had these tips available when I had my Gordon Setter. He was wonderful and a quick learner, until he was free from the lead. What a major change. I might add, that if your dog doesn't come, always go to the dog if you plan on any kind of discipline...they will equate the discipline the same way they equate the reward.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from nipples wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

I agree with kelmitch, I think it's more of making it a daily basis or a least something our friends will be used to do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blitz wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

I am curious if Stewart uses a check cord in other parts of the training process...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave DiBenedetto wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

hattles, That's a great point and one that Mike also made but I didn't have room to include. In the learning stages he mentions never calling the dog to reprimand, medicate, etc. for the same reason you mentioned--they equate the negative with the command.

We'll be hearing some more great tips from Mike in future Man's Best Friend posts so stay tuned. -D

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from lcreece wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Our 7 month old Lab does the same "I don't know you" routine but what is working for me is to call his name, then if he looks up but doesn't immediately come, I turn and start to walk away. He then starts coming (at full speed) and when he gets to me I stop and praise him for coming.It may not work for every dog but he now comes much more consistently. He is still a lot puppy along with a great dog. Having our Boykin doing it right every time doesn't hurt as a role model!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from uklabs wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Great advice all around. Some very good tips on this blog. All very much in line with "The Wildrose Way." Blitz, I seldom use a check cord for the reasons stated. About the only case... a diehard runner. I might use a cord in a limited way with a bolter. Primarily, though, I try to eliminate the option for the pup to bounce off. Use rewards and build a habit. Check out other training tips and videos at www.uklabs.com. See training archives, the Wildrose Ducks Unlimited page, youtube link and I invite you all to join our subscribers' list and begin getting our free e-training newsletter. Register online when visiting our website. Best of luck!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kelmitch wrote 4 years 30 weeks ago

After the pattern is built without the check cord is great and the tab is great for my finishing work also thanks Dave.If he ranges to far I know how to fix it toss a bird out of the bag,hunt with the wind,bending,call with the whistle,etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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