Introducing Recall (Come When Called)
There is no cue where it is more important to set your dog up for success. This means that you should set up the environment so that your dog will absolutely make the correct choice when you call him/her.
We must keep in mind that consequences drive behavior. If the consequence is good, your dog will be more likely to perform the behavior again. If the consequence is bad, the behavior will go away. It is so easy to inadvertently punish a dog for coming.
How we accidently punish a dog for coming to us:
We call the dog for something they do not like. For example: we want to give the dog a bath, so we call the dog and put the dog in the tub. We have just reduced the chances of our dog coming in the future.
We call the dog AWAY from something it really wants and don’t give it something even better. If there’s a dead squirrel in the yard, you probably aren’t going to be able to top it. Don’t call your dog away from a dead squirrel during training, and after the behavior is trained, make sure you aren’t only calling your dog in scenarios like this.
Additionally, we can damage our recall by calling our dog in situations where they aren’t likely to come during training. This isn’t forever, but training a reliable recall can take six months. We need to build a reinforcement history where the dog has had so many occasions when he/she was so happy to have come when called that they don’t even think when we call them away from something fabulously exciting.
First, let’s cover some rules for recall that you need to keep in mind during training.
- Don’t call your dog when they are too far away. Until they are trained, they cannot succeed with too much distance. Start at six feet (most leashes are about six feet)
- Don’t call your dog for something they don’t like (bath time anyone?) Instead call them, play with them for 5 minutes, and then put them in the tub. The result of coming to you is positive. The bath is later.
- Don’t call your dog when they are chasing something. They will ignore you and learn that your recall word is irrelevant.
- Don’t call your dog when the environment is too distracting. At first, that will mean you have to choose an environment that is void of anything your dog might find interesting. We will add distractions gradually, and one day your dog will be coming to you no matter what environment you are in.
- Do call your dog when you know they will come. You may have existing cues you don’t even know are cues. For instance, some dogs will come running when they hear a plastic bag rattling, and they will do it EVERY time. Call your dog before you rattle the bag, then rattle the bag, and reinforce your dog for coming!
- Do make a huge fuss when your dog comes! Throw a party! Time yourself and treat, pet, talk and play with your dog for a full 30 seconds. Make an impression even when they are only coming from six feet in an environment that’s completely emty of any distractions.
- Do practice at least three times a day making sure you throw a party for your dog. Do this forever. Keep this behavior strong.
PREREQUISITE TO TRAINING RECALL: Name recognition
- Treats – either 30 tiny pieces, or one soft treat that can be easilly broken into tiny pieces.
- Very hungry dog
TRAINING ENVIRONMENT: Start in the least distracting (most boring) place in your home.
RECOMMENDED TREAT POSITION: Give the treats to your dog in rapid succession
- Choose a recall word that you haven’t often used when your dog ignored you.
- Be sure you have set your dog up for success by removing anything that might distract him/her from coming.
- Be sure your dog is close enough to you that you are 100% positive he/she will come
- Call your dog by his/her name only (this is just to make sure that you’ve set your dog up for success, once we know your dog will come, add your recall word).
- When your dog comes to you, praise him and give him a continuous stream of very tiny treats for 30 seconds. Time yourself at first. It’s longer than you think.
- If your dog was successful the first time repeat the process but use the recall word instead of just his/her name.
- PUPPIES: Practice from 2-4 feet, three times per day.
- DOGS: Practice from about six feet away, three times per day and any time you’re going to use an “existing cue” like a plastic bag rattling. If using an existing cue, call your dog before you rattle the bag, not after.
- One time is calling, your dog comes, and you reward. You can practice all three times, one right after the other, or you can practice one recall at a time, and spread them out over your day.
AT THE END OF THIS STEP:
Your dog or puppy should be coming to you in a low distraction environment with little or no hesitation.
Your dog is not ready for distractions yet, including distracting environments like outdoors. That comes later.
My dog won’t come to me.
- Try a less distracting environment.
- Ask yourself if the reinforcement you are using is something your dog really likes.
- Are you using a word that you’ve used in the past and your dog has learned to either dislike or ignore? Change your recall word and start over.
I can’t touch my dog when he/she comes to me, or my dog won’t sit after coming.
- Your dog may find these aversive right now, but we’ll fix it later. Do not turn this exercise into a battle of wills.
- Focus on your dog coming to you. That’s all we’re asking in this step.