Tip of the Day – Don’t Ruin the Recall: Part 2

Yesterday I said that you should never end a recall with something your dog won’t like.

Sounds obvious right? You’re saying you would never end a recall with a punishment. Ha! Are you sure?

Most dog owners make this mistake ALL THE TIME without realizing.  Here’s a simple example:  It’s the morning.  Your new puppy is happily chewing her toy on the rug across the room.  You are standing on the opposite end of the room, by the kitchen, where her gated confinement area is.  It’s time for you to go to work so you call her over to you and she runs right over with enthusiasm.  You give her a quick hug, scoop her up and drop her into the gated area, then leave for work.

No math degree is required for your pup to calculate the net result of her coming when called.  Here’s how her computations went.  She came.  She received: interruption of enjoyable chewing, confinement, and hours of alone time.  In one fell swoop you have just ruined your indoor recall.  Next time you call your pup from across the room in the morning, expect to get response #1 from yesterday’s post (motionless inquisitive look).  Repeat the call-and-confine mistake again and you’ll soon be getting response #3 (running away from your call).

Don’t despair, I have good news.  There’s a way to solve this dilemma. If you have to call your dog for something she won’t like… Don’t.  Do one of these instead:

Option 1: Go get her instead of calling her. This is the best and easiest solution in most cases.  Say nothing.  Don’t ruin your recall cue!  Whether the cue is something casual for indoors (like her name and a leg pat) or your formal training cue for outdoors (like “Come!”) – you should never say any recall cue before your dog will get something she doesn’t like (nail clipping, confinement, baths, smothering from a wild pack of toddlers, etc).  Stop.  Hold your tongue.  Don’t call her.  Just calmly go get her.

Option 2: Do something very fun and rewarding for a couple of minutes BEFORE exposing your dog to the thing she doesn’t like. For example, as in the case described above,  if you call your dog to come over to you and the next event is going to be you leaving for work, don’t put her in confinement and leave RIGHT AFTER she comes to you. Do something fun and completely unrelated for a couple of minutes first.  (I must warn you, though: If you repeat the same pattern every time, a smart dog (most are) will pick up on the associations and learn that the confinement is coming soon in the sequence of events after the recall.  Better to go with option 1 or 3 if you can’t be sufficiently random enough to keep your dog from picking up on your patterns.)

Option 3:  Teach your dog to like the thing she doesn’t like. This is the hardest and most time-consuming option but also the longest lasting and truly best.  As in the above example where you have to go to work and leave your pup in a gated area – you should teach your pup to love that “den” and be comfortable being alone for a few hours at a time.  (It goes without saying that you have pet sitting lined up to break up the day, right!?) Teaching your pup to calmly accept isolation is a topic for another day, but a very important one.  A few quick hints for this: make the confinement area fun (food puzzle toys) and comfortable, gradually increase separation time and distance from you, provide sufficient exercise before and after separation time.

The Wrap: To get a dog who really loves coming when called and responds with enthusiasm every time, the trick is to greet her arrival with generous, awesome rewards. Rewards are anything your dog loves: walks, rubs, toys, play, chase, treats, more freedom, etc – be creative, unpredictable, and generous.  Have fun!  This is especially important in the early training of the recall and if done right, can make a positive association that will last a lifetime.

Yesterday I promised you an intense story about coming when called, but as I continued writing everything you need to know about recalls there was so much more to say that the story will have to wait until tomorrow.  For today, I’d like to wrap by giving you a simple proven formula for getting success with your own dogs outside.

I LOVE to take my dogs hiking off-leash in the woods and through open fields. Therefore they must come when called.  They’ve all learned this and so have clients’ dogs who have stayed in my home and hiked with my family.  Here’s one of my favorite methods for teaching dogs to be reliable off-leash:

  1. I reserve very high value, healthy, rewards ONLY for practicing recalls in the outdoors (ex., boiled chicken).
  2. I practice with a hungry dog to enhance the reward value (ex., we skip breakfast and go out in the morning)
  3. I start out on a long line to ensure safety and to ensure that if the dog ignores me he does not have more fun ignoring me than listening to me.
  4. I reward all positive responses to recalls with generous amounts of tasty treats, praising and rewarding for at least 15 seconds straight.  Then, I say OK! and…
  5. I immediately let the dog run back out into nature and freedom.

That last step is important.  The release back into freedom becomes a reward in and of itself!


Part 3 tomorrow, see you then.

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