a plucky little blog


Rock Your Recall

December 04, 2016 at 8:23 AM

When I tell someone that I do off-leash group hikes, usually their first question is some variation of "How do you make sure all the dogs stay with you?". In short, most dogs enjoy following along and do not wish to run away, but I also train a strong recall (coming when called) when a new dog first starts walking with me. Whether you are just starting out with training your pup, or need to brush up on your older dog's skills, here are some tips to jumpstart your rocket recall.

Remember the 5 Rules of Recall
1. Only call your dog when you are mostly sure they will come to you.
2. Only call your dog for fun things, not for something they find unpleasant.
3. Say your recall word/phrase/sound once and ONLY ONCE. After that, encourage with cheerleading ("Goooood girl! Nice job! Let's go!") to get your dog excited to reach to you.
4. Save the recall if it doesn't happen on the first try. If your dog ignores the recall word, follow it up with happy noises/clapping/running away, and if that is ignored, try a food lure. The last resort is to physically retrieve your dog and guide them back to where you were. Make sure it happens, and then reward the recall. If you can't make it happen, it wasn't a good time to try using your recall word: see Rule 1.
5. Fabulous rewards for fabulous recalls! Use high value rewards that you reserve just for recall (usually food, like boiled chicken or meatballs or liver, but if your dog goes ga-ga for toys, use a favorite one for recall only), and/or something new and exciting each time, like meaty leftovers from your dinner. Make it worth your dog's while to come away from fun.

Start at your dog's level
Even if you and your dog are not new to the training scene, you will need to start out in the most uninteresting context possible. Try thinking about situations in which your dog is successful in coming when called, and those that are more challenging. Set up your dog for success by starting with something easy according to those standards, which may be calling him from a few feet away in your living room, or on a leash in the back yard. Gradually add in more distance and distractions to work towards challenging situations. Make sure you can follow Rule 4 by using a 30-ft long leash when you start visiting off-leash areas, where distractions are more unpredictable. 

Try a new recall word
If the Rules of Recall are new to you, and if you've unknowingly broken one or more of them (especially repeatedly), your dog might have learned to ignore your cue. It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to call their distracted dog with "Maggie, come....Come. Come, Maggie. Come! C'mon, come! Come here! I said COME!" All is not lost! Try starting over, following all 5 rules, with a new cue and high-value treat in a boring context. You can use any word or sound that doesn't already mean something to the dog, but here are some ideas for alternatives to "come": a whistle (either whistling with your lips or a plastic or metal whistle), "treats", "here", "hurry up", "aquí", "cookies", "to me", or "let's go". Your new word is a promise to your dog that you have something special to give them every time.

Give Premack a try
The Premack principle states that you can reinforce a lower probability behavior (like coming when called) using a higher probability behavior (like digging dirt or chasing a friend--whatever the dog enjoys). In essence, if you call your dog away from a safe, enjoyable activity, then allow them to return to the activity after coming to you, you've rewarded your dog using the Premack principle. This does take some practice, starting with very short distances and durations and less exciting activities (e.g., briefly coming away from digging or bone chewing, rather than squirrel chasing), but it can be a powerful tool. Premack is a great way to maintain a beautiful recall that is already in place. See it in action here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RuUQv3tG5OI

Disclaimer: Since taking a dog off-leash has potential for dangerous results, please use a leash when in doubt. A long line (not retractable leash) held, long line dragging, and short leash dragging can make for good in-between steps toward being totally off-leash. In this training scenario, setting your dog up for success will also mean protecting your dog from cars, unfriendly dogs, and ingestion of who-knows-what!
In addition to training all the lucky puppies at Plucky Puppy, Cindy Wang is owner, trainer, and dog walker at Stumptown Littles, offering private training and off-leash group walks for small dogs in NE and NW Portland. She can be reached at 503-752-6963 or cindy@stumptownlittles.com.


Tags: training recall Premack
Category: Training

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