Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Project Squirrel - when the woods are full of distraction



Project Squirrel is the code name for my ongoing recall challenge with Freya.

I’ve had a few requests to talk more about the challenge of getting a reliable recall around wildlife, and for us the big one is squirrels!

For those of you who haven’t met her, Freya is my dinky blue merle Collie. The only one of my girls who can hear and see properly – and that just means even more opportunities to get distracted.
Freya came from a travellers site via York RSPCA (thanks to Nikki for finding her for me) having already been a teenage mum.

Right from the start Freya has been super keen on working with me, very food motivated and fairly interested in toys (better if they squeak). She was quick to check in and seemed to tune in to a whistle within a few days.

Frankly it was all a bit too good to be true.

Then we went on a new walk in the forest (Freya on longline for safety).

Imagine the scene.

Collie standing below a tree, right forepaw raised like a pointer, nose pointing straight up.

Quivering with excitement.

Squirrel perched safely high in the trees, chittering away.

Let’s just say that I actually had to pick her up and carry her away from the tree…she hadn’t just gone deaf, it was as though she was paralysed!

That was about 4 years ago now.

Here’s a picture of Freya in Rannoch Woods on our recent holiday – off lead, staying connected and not obsessing about potential squirrel.



I’ll tell you more about the process we’re (still) working through, and I promise to be honest about the failures just as much as the successes.

Today’s secret tip is actually nothing to do with recall per se.

It’s all about having more fun, and a better relationship with your dog.

Just doing recall training and attention exercises can get pretty monotonous (for you and your dog).

Instead having a collection of tricks and fun stuff that you’re working on anyway, so going new distracting places is just a fab opportunity to practice, turns that round.

For Freya, taking tricks classes with Sian has really helped build our “fun” repertoire, and Parkour (jumping and balancing on/under/over things) was the perfect compliment.

Woods don’t just = squirrels now.

Woods = cheesey scentwork, chase mum, balance on tree logs, jump on benches, recall!!!, cuddles in the sun and more…

Have a fun week with your dog, and I’ll tell you more about Project Squirrel next week

Morag and the collie girls

P.S. if you want to get some of the secret sauce that Sian teaches, keep Sunday 8th October free and I’ll have more information on her workshop next week!

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