Yesterday while driving home from a private training session, I spotted a German Shepherd dog running free. It had bolted past her owner through their gate, out into traffic. I immediately stopped, grabbed some treats and ran to help retrieve this dog. She was nearly hit by a car twice and one person kicked at her to get away from him. Clearly this wasn’t a safe situation. After a few moments of panic, another woman was able to catch her and calm her down. I immediately started shoving treats and goodies into her mouth, which she gobbled down eagerly. When her owner approached, all he wanted to do was to punish her from running off and was confused at why I was rewarding her.
I’m SO glad I was there to tell him how important it is to PRAISE her for coming back, or in this case, getting caught.
It’s human instinct to get angry when a dog bolts past you, through the door and out into the world. Anger out of fear for the dog getting hurt, anger that the dog doesn’t know any better (is this really the dog’s fault?), or maybe anger out of frustration the dog disobeyed. Either way, anger isn’t going to do any good. If he was to punish that GSD yesterday, what would that have taught her?
That coming back will earn her a punishment. Well then, who the heck would ever come back to that?
So, when the dog comes back to you, the only response you should have is wonder and happiness! Reward the dog for coming back, reward them like they’ve never been rewarded before. The action that follows this is what really counts, because it’s time to take action so that it doesn’t happen again.
Training a solid recall:
1) What is your dog’s motivation? Food? Praise? Combination of the two? Toys? Games?
– Nine times out of ten, food is the answer. When training for recall, you don’t want any ordinary food. You want the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the filet mignon of treats. Use whatever drives the dog wild with eagerness to listen. Every dog is different in their tastes so make sure you use something that is high quality and really yummy.
– When food is not the first motivation for the dog, I would train the dog to come when called with EVERY meal. Every dog must eat to survive….so use that to your advantage. Use meal times as your training times so that the dog must come when called or he/she wont eat that meal. It’s incredible how fast dogs learn when they have to earn their food! Eventually you can start adding in some really yummy, high quality foods/treats/goodies to their normal food to work with this.
– Using toys and games is also a great way to teach recall training, but this technique is for dogs that LOVE play and games like tug. Training a solid game of tug is a whole different topic (maybe next blog post!).
– You may find that this technique is highly dependent on food and treats….well yeah, it is because food is the easiest resource to manage out of them all.
2) Start out simple.
– Your dog should learn to come when called in the most controlled context you can provide: IE in your home. If your dog doesn’t come the first time you call it’s name inside the house, this is where you should begin.
– Have the same cue/command for recall EVERY time you call the dog. If you change it up every time, that makes it so much harder for a dog to learn what you mean. Pick just one and stick to it! Examples:
* Fluffy come!
* Come Fluffy!
* Come here Fluffy!
3) How it’s trained inside:
– Call the dog ONCE.
– If the dog comes, reinforce it with 15-30 pieces of food Pez-dispenser style, one at a time. Reinforcement should last no less than 30 seconds. Give plenty of verbal praise while handing out food.
– If the dog doesn’t come, wait about a minute. Move closer to the dog and try again. You may find that you have to start out just a few feet from the dog.
4) Once the dog has solid recall in the house, move out side in a fenced yard (back yard is preferable)
– Have two people for this, one is the handler (the one who’s calling the dog), the other is just here to hold the dog still. The dog should be on leash or a long line so that they can be controlled even in a fenced yard. The person holding the dog shouldn’t be making any kind of connection with the dog, just holding them in place.
– The handler should move just a few feet away from the dog, call them once and immediately start moving away from the dog just a few quick paces. At the exact same time when the handler calls the dog’s name, the other person must drop the leash and be ready to move with the dog toward the handler. The reason we do this is because most dogs LOVE the game of chase, and so the handler is mimicking a game of chase to make recall fun and exciting.
– As soon as the dog comes to the handler, 30 seconds worth of praise, food given one piece at a time as above.
– As the dog gets better and better with recall, start moving further and further away while still in an enclosed back yard or controlled outdoor setting. Make it more and more challenging with distance and distraction. Then move to the front yard, or a park but start out close and eventually work your way to being far away for a recall. The more places you can train recall with your dog the better they will be at it! Generalizing recall is what this means, the dog will come to the owner NO MATTER where they are or what is happening.
5) Potential problems with this method:
– If you find your dog lacks interest in this method, start out working on simple focus exercises to strengthen the bond between human and canine. Good focus is the foundation for a solid recall. If there’s little or no relationship, or a damaged relationship between an owner and their dog- starting here might be necessary.
– If you find your dog lacks recall even in simple contexts, either reevaluate food reinforcements and include higher quality, higher value treats OR just simply increases your reinforcements from 30 seconds to a minute or more. Use what works for your dog. Sometimes dogs will take the first treat great and then lose interest- this is partially because they’re so used to getting just ONE treat, they don’t really know more are coming. You may find yourself working up to the point of giving a total of 30 seconds worth over time.
Please contact me if you have any questions regarding recall training! I’m always happy to help!