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Hey guys. I have a 3yr. old Cocker Spaniel. Actually she was my wife's dog before we were married. I would like to train her basic commands first, such as "sit," "come," stay" and "whoa". I would also like to eventually train her to retrieve. I had a Chessie that I trained myself. She turned out to be a pretty good bird dog, so I am not a total greenie. However, I started training my Chessie at 10-12 weeks old. Sophie is 3 years old. I never bothered training her before, because my wife had not trained her before we were married. She will not come when called unless she wants to. I am pretty certain that she understands this command. I think she is just being stubborn. Any ideas? Is it true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
 

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You teach them the same way that you would a puppy.

Training has changed over the years though. Now most people use positive reinforcement. There's some stickies at the top of the training forum you might read. I've taught dogs as old as 12 to do basic obedience, plus some tricks.
 

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I always used positive reinforcement on my Chessie. I definitely do not believe in the old school BB-gun method. I never even used an e-collar. The harshest thing I did to Sage was force-fetching. I quit doing that after a while. I figured, this is kind of cruel, and I am not doing it anymore. I will check out the stickies. Thanks.
 

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Old dog?

Last week I taught my Beagle -- roughly the same lifespan as a Cocker -- to spin in two directions. She'll be 11 in July.

Many of our members have taken in rescues at 3 or older with minimal training and turned them into very well-behaved dogs.

In other words, don't worry about it.

Recall can be tricky. I'm in a bit of a rush, so I'm going to just post a few basic tips:

1. Never let a command go unenforced.
2. Never ask her to come for something negative (like ear cleaning, nail clipping or whatever). In the same vein, never punish her for coming, even if it's because you caught her chewing on your laptop or because she took 2 minutes to respond.
3. Practise, practise, practise. Increase the difficulty in increments -- don't expect her to recall from 5' away, then 20' away with strangers around. Remember that dogs are much more attuned to their physical environment than we are. Even training in your living room and training in your front yard can have a huge difference to her in terms of distraction.
4. Recall has two main variables: distraction level and distance. Focus on one at a time. If she can recall from 10' in your backyard, don't expect her to recall from 10' in the dog park. Increase only one criteria at a time.
5. Reinforce with jackpots (huge bundles of treats) once in awhile.

Good luck!
 

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You're welcome! Actually, I forgot the most important rule of all in training recall:

Unless you are 95% sure your dog is going to return to you when you call, your dog should not be offleash in an unfenced area! I cannot stress this enough. There are a lot of nasty possibilities when your dog is offleash in an open area. One of them, obviously, is that she will not return to you; but there are many others, involving cars, other aggressive dogs, cats, squirrels and little kids holding chocolate bars.

There are tools out there like long leashes (they make them up to 50 feet) and retractable leashes that will allow you to work with your dog at a distance while maintaining control on things. When you're ready to start practising offleash, find an empty tennis court or some other fenced area where you can train. Proof your dog against distractions like other dogs and people -- if you're not sure about what proofing is, please feel free to ask (my post is getting too long though I promised myself it would be brief). You can never be too cautious.

Lastly, here's one tip for if, for whatever reason, your dog is offleash and you are trying to catch it. Do not chase it. A dog that does not want to be caught will not be caught, whether it is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane. Instead, run in the opposite direction. Most likely your dog will start running towards you. Dogs want to go the way you're going, and to a dog, that's the way your face and feet are pointing. Patricia McConnell says the best way to visually call a dog is to bend down, turn away from your dog, and clap. This won't work all the time, but it's better than running after your dog, leash in hand, screaming "Sophie! Come! Sophie! Come! Come!" which undoes more training than you know.
 
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