Relationship Truce

Posted on 06/29/10 13 Comments

Wow, am I ever excited. It is going to be a tough week because I have a ton of stuff I want to share with all of you BUT on top of that, I have Greg and Laura Derrett here this week, so I will be a very busy teaching our biggest camp of the year. A challenge, but I am going to try to do it all!

If you have been following along with the blog recently you know I have been writing about and debating about how, or if, a recall is related to the “relationship” you have with your dog. Here is the thing, I don’t want to alienate anyone from getting help from me because of my choice of phraseology.  I am hereby raising the white flag. No need for anyone to defend their own opinion on the matter.

Even in the most ridiculously rude criticism of each of us, our work or our beliefs, there will always be nuggets for growth available provided that we don’t trip over our own self importance while on our way to rallying people to our “side” of the fence.

So thank you to Nancy for drawing my attention into an opportunity for more growth (not that I felt what you directed towards me was “ridiculously rude” or anything).

Here is what I have discovered over the years of teaching seminars; yes I know, in my own enthusiasm to help every dog I meet, I have, on occasion, hurt the feelings of the person holding the other end of that dog’s leash.

If this has been you, please know, I realize that your tears where not badges of martyrization. However looking back they may have been necessary for me to alter my approach in order to help the next person.

At the risk of sounding altruistic let me state my ultimate goal in life is to help as many  dogs as possible to be better understood. The more people I alienate the less opportunity I have to meet this goal.

All behaviours have their consequences don’t you know.

Thus, I hope those of you that met me at a seminar in the mid ’90’s would find a different presenter today. I am not saying “I have arrived” and my people skills have me in line for sainthood . . .  but I do know I am making great strides in the right direction.

I recognize that not all people learn the same way, that is why I continue to try to come up with different ways to present the science behind the dog training.

So why am I so excited today? I am excited because while I was getting ready for the trial this past weekend it hit me. All of these comments about recalls, relationships and reinforcement; good, bad or indifferent made me recognize we have a BIG problem here. I mean universally.

There are A LOT of people with recalls that need help. I don’t just mean the obvious, those unfortunate few who have had to bare the embarrassment of having a dog that would not recall away from; a group of dogs or out of a pond or to stop “zooming” around the agility ring.

But more than that, this recall discussion got me examining all of my dogs’ recalls. Yes my 3 year old Feature as well as my  13 year old Buzz.

What about you? Do EACH of your dogs come when called every time, no matter what, the FIRST time you call?

I am thinking there are a lot of people that can use some help and this has kept me up at night.  More to come (I hope this week between camp sessions).

Today I am grateful for all of you that, after reading this post today may be looking back and wondering why you had to be one of Susan Garrett’s sacrificial lamb on her way to learning lessons about the best way to reach students:).


  1. Deanna says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 11:08pm

    though i know you are right on.. it kinda stings a bit!! and what makes things even worse is i have exhausted so much money, time, different training techniques to get a reliable dog in the different venues we are working in and after 2 years, and our major agility debut she had the “zoomies”.. i can’t get her back to me. I swear i had this right!!! Susan, she comes back to me 99% of the time outside of a ring!!!!!
    I don’t want to get into the “my next dog will be better,etc………..”
    i need to be enlightened… bring it! =)


  2. Nancy Kemna says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 9:57pm

    Hi Susan, nice thoughtful post. I sure didn’t mean to be rude, though goodness knows “accidental rudeness happens alarmingly often” to quote J.K. Rowling’s character of Albus Dumbledore. So, apologies if I came off as such.


  3. Lisa Kaufman says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:59pm

    You know, I always think my dogs have this great recall, until I am in a trial and they won’t come when called. And then I feel immensely defeated. So, yes, I need work, it appears! Have I felt awful at seminars, camps, trialing, yep. And most of the time, as I look back, I realize that it was a ‘needed feeling to have’. But I don’t enjoy having my feelings hurt and do often wonder if there is a better way. Maybe I am just sensitive? I don’t know? I am looking forward to see additional posts on recall work. I have decided to not go to many seminars anymore. I run Bernese Mtn Dogs, and usually that sets the tone. 🙂 Nancy’s FB post and blog post did make me think and made me check back in w/your own blog. And I have thought a lot about it. Especially after a rough wknd w/my young Berner and feeling really crappy at the end of the trial. As my instructor says, it is the journey, right?


  4. CJ says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 6:45pm

    Recall is the first thing I worked on when I got my puppy (now 15 mos), but I know that there are distractions that we need more work on. I think you were right on the money talking about the relationship with your dog. I had a clear (and scary!) illustration of how much better it needs to be when my pup snapped her collar taking off after a rabbit onto the street and didn’t pay me the least bit of attention when I called her back. We were extremely lucky that she didn’t get hit, and what you talked about in your blog went through my mind right after I caught up to her. If the relationship were as rock solid as they should be I wouldn’t have had to have those moments of terror. Needless to say this is now my #1 training focus.


  5. Lynne Helmhold says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 6:38pm

    I certainly put my hand up for help!! We have ok but not great recalls, so look forward to your further posts.


  6. Trudie says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 3:15pm

    Love your photo with little surprise – did anyone put their cursor on the DeCaff mouth – you get the word “kisses”
    Love the video you once posted of your dogs in the pond, when you called they all got out. I’m thinking there has been a lot of Premack principle here…


  7. Robann says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 2:49pm

    My dogs have a strong recall response. I live in a very rural area with abundant wildlife. I can and do recall my dogs when faced with herds of elk, a bear or two, and their favorite… rabbits. However, there recalls are not perfect. They do need to be maintained and not taken for granted.

    I have two rough collies with MACHS and a young terrier puppy (my husband’s). We work on each of their recalls often. We will sometimes use a variation of the “name game”, which is quite fun and also exercises the dogs very well. In this game, each human has a handful of treats. All three dogs (hungry) are turned loose in the large fenced in yard. We recall one at a time, randomly. Only the dog recalled (we use their names) gets the treat. With two people wandering at opposite sides of the yard, alot of recall practice occurs with dogs running really hard at the same time. We quit before the dogs get too tired to run very briskly on their recall.

    I think the essence of your message is a very good one. Most people need some help in this area.


  8. Melissa Blazak says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 12:12pm

    I also went back and read Nancy’s blog and the responses to it. I do agree that there could be many new or not so new handlers/dog owners ashamed by their dogs’ performance (justified or not) at a seminar/workshop that they paid big bucks to attend.
    There are so many repeaters that know what they’re doing and how to work through problems that the struggling people might be intimidated enough not to come back.
    Luckily enough, though I’ve been ashamed, intimidated, anxious, and emotional (no I’m really not a nutcase!, just my reaction to being out of my element)……..I still think the experience is worth it.


  9. Melissa Blazak says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 10:54am

    I would love more on recalls too. Perhaps a workshop???? Cross training my young standard poodle in field, how can I build a successfull recall at 75 to maybe 200 yards away (or more…) with all the distractions the outdoors brings…..very difficult for a newbie with no experience who is often confused and sometimes frustrated….will we ever get our WC or JH? Can I advance to another level? And will I ever get him to stop running up to greet other dogs?
    The subtle and not so subtle pressure of some others to use an e-collar is always present whether on a discussion board or in certain training circles. I want to build on my relationship with my dog and prove to myself that I can do it.
    I definately admit to doing things wrong and sometimes slacking off on training, so I never blame it on the dog.
    Dissolving in a puddle of emotion is probably what I would do had I been the subject of your criticism, I have seen others though. I am a mush. Not that I think you’re mean or lack sympathy (for the dogs at least!), but because what you say is the truth and it means I have not worked as hard at the relationship with my dog as I could have and have not made being with me enough of a reward in the face of distraction.


  10. Catherine Thomas says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 9:44am

    My wonderful dog Silas died unexpectedly about a month ago. He was just short of his ninth brithday and in perfect health. Best guess is that he had a massive heart attack. He sleeps peacefully beneath a young horse chestnut tree near my house. Silas came to me at ten months old. He was a splendid teacher! His breeder had taken him back from his first owner because he had (been allowed to) run loose down a major highway in Vancouver more than once. He came with the “catch me if you can” feature very well installed 🙂 It took years of work and a life time of management to teach Silas how to recall reliably and I was very careful not to test his skills. I will be forever grateful for what he taught me.
    Subsequent additions to my household, Nell (aged 5) and Figaro (14 months) have very strong recalls. I will never have a dog with a dodgey recall. I love the article you wrote about finding problems sufficiently irritating to change them forever. A great recall is something that I teach and work on for the lifetime of all of my dogs. I try very hard to help my clients to realise the value of investing in recall skills from day one.
    I want my dogs to have the maximium freedom and the maximium level of safety in this strange world of human beings they inhabit – it seems to me that great manners, excellent leash skills and a great recall are the cornerstones to achieving this end.
    Thank you so much for your thought provoking posts,
    Catherine Thomas


  11. Heidi says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:53am

    I would like it if you did more on recalls. I can’t get fellow students to understand how important it is. If we all strive to learn from mistakes and better ourselves it sure would be a much nicer world. Good luck this week!


  12. Judith Batchelor says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:51am

    About a year ago an acquaintance of mine lost her dog due to the absence of of a recall. The dog ran right into traffic and was hit- a reliable recall would have saved his life. Maybe if someone had stressed the importance to my acquaintance sooner her dog might be still alive. This lady has since purchased another dog and she has worked on her recalls right from the day she brought him home (with a lot of encouragement from me).

    The answer to your question or inquiry is NO- both of my dogs do not come each and every time no matter what the distraction on the first call. They do have a recall just not as responsive as above. This is something I work on knowing the importance to safety it is and I work on my relationship with them daily.


  13. Gemma Osmond says:
    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 7:57am

    Bother, your post might make me need to do something about Kai’s (my 6 year old 3 legged collie dog) recall. The boy comes back, but it isn’t usually first time, and not normally without some cajoling. He now has a long history of reinforcement from people amazed at ‘how well he does with only 3 legs!’, and whilst he loved fussing before, it’s even better now with the sympathy card to play 😉


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