The Reliable Recall

The Reliable Recall
Written By Natalie Hawkins CPDT-KA

As a Modern Methods dog trainer I am continually looking to build on by education and understanding of how to motivate, communicate and teach my dog. Currently the topic of the recall (coming when called) has come up. How do I know my dog will come to me when he sees wildlife, cars, or some other exciting bling bling of the wild open world?? The answer is simple, the process is simple. The answer is training, lots and lots of training in lots of situations and environments. The process is to reward correct behavior and avoid making mistakes with my dog. I have to know his limitations, work toward his strengths and build a foundation of successful outcomes.

Here is how I do it.
I want to set my dog up to succeed as the process for teaching him, make it easy for him to get the right answer over and over. I change the situation just enough to provide challenge but not so much as to confuse or muddle the behavior I am looking for. So, what does this mean for a reliable recall situation? I start where distraction are low, and provide proper motivation (maybe food or a toy) , then I use a leash, not because it controls or cues the dog, just so he stays safe. I introduce a common hand and physical cue for my dog to understand; in most cases I teach my dog to target my hand. I do this with a treat in my hand and click when he takes the food from me. After several repetitions I alternated food in hand and empty hand. Movement is next, I move away from my dog, then present hand, he touches I click and reward him. (lots of practice at varied distances) again there is no verbal cue as of yet, I am waiting for my dog to look at me and see my hand to come up and touch. This creates a dog who is looking for me, not waiting for me to remind him I'm there. I NEVER use the leash to pull the dog to me, why? Not because it is forceful, but because it would become part of the cue, and I want the cue to be clean from the start. 
Next is the addition of a verbal cue to the hand signal. I want my dog to know and understand a verbal cue as well as he does body language. When he looks at me, I say "Come" or "Here" and present my hand target. He runs over and gets a treat!! I release him with a "Free" and walk away, we do this over and over, it's a game and he is having fun. There is no hurry, but rarely does it take more then 10 -15 min for the whole process. Then we practice for several days, vary the length of the leash and start changing the environments, but keep distractions low and duration of lessons short. 
After a few days of fun and successful training it is time to increase the level of distractions. Maybe in a quiet park or a field close to home. Repeat the lessons, short distances at first and build up. It is important to mention at this time your dog must look at you before you give him a cue, I mean he can’t see a cue (your hand) if he has his back turned, so say his name, or use a positive interrupter like a smooch or whistle. Practice for several minutes a day, several times a day. New locations, increasing levels of distraction, within two weeks you can lengthen the duration of the sessions, be in more distractive environments and gain distance. We call this process the 3 D's of dog training: Distraction, Duration and Distance. This is the process of proofing, to proof the recall you must work through the D's and create fun and successful situations for your dog to learn. 
When do I remove the safety line (the leash)? Good question... I like to lower my level of distractions and go back to a space my dog is very comfortable in. I won't take the leash off if it is a public space unless it is a safe space for my dog to legally be off leash. He can drag a 20 ft. leash in most places. We go back to the easy stuff, this is where I build my trust in my dog, and he in me. Lots of high value rewards and release ("free") cues, I will also play games ( my dog loves a "flirt pole"). Now we work through the 3 D's again. Build on Distraction, Duration and Distance. Good training takes time, period. How much time depends on the dog, with this process only about a month? 
Teaching the recall is such an important process, you are building trust with your dog. Never call your dog to you without rewarding him for correct response, and here is when I get to say that a good treat is always an asset. Don't bribe your dog, food never needs to be part of the cue, it only comes out of your pocket when you get the right answer from your dog. Not before. If my dog becomes distracted after I have called him to me, some bling of the world caught his eye and he takes in chase, panic is not an option. If all else fails, go get your dog. Be patient, he is a living thinking being that will make mistakes. Go back to some basics and never hold a grudge. Mistakes are a common part of learning, focus on the good stuff!! Creating a reliable recall is possible! You and do it! You are awesome and so is your dog.

 

Natalie Hawkins