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Training a reliable recall


The recall is one of the more difficult things to teach your dog. We don't have the luxury of being able to control the dog with the leash if we need to, and we are relying on the dog to want to come back to us, and choose us over everything else he could be doing at that time.

Recall training never ends, it's something that must be maintained throughout the life of the dog. We MUST make sure we never call the dog when he's in trouble or to do something he doesn't like (like bathing or claw trimming), and we never punish the dog for coming back, even if we've been chasing him around the field for an hour because he didn't want to come. Otherwise, in the dog's eyes, we'd just be punishing him for coming to us. Always reward him when he does eventually come. This is imperative.

Reserve the best rewards for the really brilliant recalls. The slower recalls could be rewarded with a piece of dry food or just a pat.

To get a reliable recall, it must always be something fun and pleasant for the dog. Toys are great for recall training, because they simulate prey drive and dogs generally find them more "fun" than receiving a piece of food. But anything your dog likes can be used as a reward for the recall. For dogs who don't like toys, you could always throw the food along the ground to simulate the chase and fun of the prey drive.

Even when you're not formally training the recall, you are teaching your dog whether or not it's pleasant to be around you. If you're always yelling at your dog and getting very frustrated many times a day, he is less likely to want to hang around you, and thus less likely to want to come running to you at full speed.

If you spend lots of quality time with your dog, train him using reward based methods, and instead of yelling at him you simply interrupt unwanted behaviour and redirect it into what you want, your dog will enjoy your company more, and won't think twice about running back to you.


Early training

All early training should happen in a low distraction environment, e.g. inside the house or in the backyard.

Call your dog's name in a happy voice. Don't use your recall command yet. When your dog comes over, reward with something your dog loves. If your dog doesn't come, make yourself more interesting by making funny noises, waving your arms around or rolling around on the ground. Reward when your dog comes.

When your dog comes running every time you do this, you can add your recall command. If your dog has gotten used to ignoring the recall command in the past, choose a new word. It should ideally be something you wouldn't use many times a day, as we don't want it to lose its meaning. It should also be said in a very happy, excited voice that is different from everyday speech.

The following games should be played on a regular basis for the rest of the dog's life.


Collar grabs

Most dogs have a negative association with having their collar grabbed, as this is only usually done when the dog is in trouble, in an emergency when the owner is panicked, or to move the dog off furniture.

In order to have a dog who enjoys having his collar grabbed for the recall games, and won't shy away from you if you need to grab him in an emergency, we need to change your dog's association with the collar grab.

Have your dog on leash, and have some high value treats ready. Grab your dog's collar, give a treat, release the collar.

Timing is important - you grab your dog's collar, thenyou present the treat.

If your dog really hates the collar grab, start by just lightly touching the leash away from the collar. When your dog is comfortable with this, gradually work your way closer to the collar.

Try to keep your dog moving between collar grabs. 


Restrained recalls

Having someone restrain your dog so he has to struggle to move forward and get to you, creates more drive for getting to you in general which increases the fun of it for your dog and gets your dog in the habit of running to you really fast when you call him.

Have someone holding your dog. If your dog is shy or doesn't like his collar grabbed, the person could hold him around the chest or grab him around the hips so they're not leaning over him, or just put a foot on your dog's leash.

Walk or run away from your dog, your dog should now be fidgeting or struggling to follow. When your dog seems really excited to follow, call your dog using your recall command. As you call, your helper lets your dog go so he can chase you. Most dogs will run to you with great enthusiasm and speed. Reward when your dog catches up to you.

When you've done this a few times, instead of rewarding as soon as your dog catches up, you can suddenly change direction to surprise the dog, and then reward when he catches up.


Push-back recalls

This is another variation of the restrained recall, but can be done without a helper.

Start your session with a great game of tug or by running around for a bit for dogs who don't like toys, just to get their heart rate up.

Bend down and push your dog gently back from the chest area and take off running. This stimulates your dog's instinct to chase. When he catches you, reward him with something he really likes.


Hall Run recalls

For this game ideally you should use a hallway, but any space will do as long as it's free of distractions. You also need a helper.

Sit on the floor with your friend sitting opposite you at the other end of the hallway. Turn your dog to face your friend. Your friend should call your dog (don't use the recall command until you're sure your dog will come), when your dog arrives your friend grabs the collar and hands your dog a treat, then turns your dog around to face you. You now call your dog back to you, grab the collar and hand your dog a treat.

Repeat a few times, but remember to keep the session short and fun.


Trick and treat recalls

This teaches your dog the only appropriate time to take food from the floor (only with a verbal cue to "get it”), it teaches him to come no matter what he is doing, and it is another way to do restrained recalls without someone to hold your dog.

You will need a room with a corner or a hallway, and two sets of treats - one low value, like dry food, and one extremely high value, like chicken.

Get your dog excited by playing or running, then stand with your dog next to you facing a corner of the room, and ideally with some open space behind you.

Have your dog next to you, and hold your dog's collar. You have treats in both hands, the high value treat is in the hand that holds the collar. Throw the low value treat into the corner, making sure your dog sees you throw the treat. Release your dog to "get it". Wait for your dog to run over and swallow the treat, then call your dog and run the opposite way. When your dog catches up, reward with the extremely high value treat.

After playing this game a few times you should be able to increase the distance to the corner and the distance you throw the low value treat. You should also experiment with running away while your dog is running to the corner, and calling your dog on the run after he has swallowed the treat.

You should aim to maintain eye contact with your dog by looking over your shoulder while running away (just be careful so you don't run into anything!)

 

Recall training should be done every day, but minimum 3 days per week. Each game only takes about one minute, so you can do one game per day and be finished in 1 minute, or you can run through all of the games every day and this will take you 5 minutes.





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