Most of us have been here. Calling our dog and they are not responding. Some even look at you and head off at double speed in the other direction!!@!@!
What is it? Do the dogs know that today I am in a rush and need to be out of the park on time, today! Can they read time, how do they know that this time they come to me I am going to put the lead on? Why do they think it is a game? Trust me I don’t enjoy it!
Letting your dog off lead is what we all want to do. We all want to see our dogs run free. It gives us so much pleasure to allow our dogs this freedom.
So much so that often we do this before we have taught the dog a reliable come back when I call you.
It’s ok to want to give your dog freedom. Some owners take themselves to fenced in parks to ensure their dog won’t leave them and that they can catch them, others have a lead trailing so they can catch their dog.
These are fall back measures.
Legally you should not let your dog off lead if you don’t have a recall, come when called. It means your dog is not safe, that if a dog pesters them or they pester another dog or worse person/ jogger then you can’t act quickly and take control over your dog.
But we do it, our desire to see our dogs run be free, justifies our letting them go.
Most of us are armed ready with toys, squeakers, treats and ourselves. We are ready to wave our arms around, wave toys, squeaky frantically and call our dog’s name 1000 times to get them to come back to us. I love you all for your enthusiasm.
This tactic works for about a week and then we start to see lack luster in their returns to us and the ultimate disaster. Your dog looks at you and moves away!
So where did we go wrong? Were we wrong? Is this not what you have seen other people do in the past?
I am going to answer these in order.
Where did we go wrong?
We winged it, we took a little bit of knowledge about learning and thought we knew it all.
Were we wrong?
Well, I would say not conceptually wrong just our execution was the issue.
Other people do this?
That does not make it right!
So how does a dog learn to recall, come, when called?
Firstly they have to have a positive association of being close to you. So lots of pats, eye contact, verbal praise and fun things happen or eaten when they are close to you. Now don’t be fooled into thinking you are great at this, your dog loves cuddles when you are watching the TV. Trust me I have yet to see a park with a sofa and free Foxtel! I need you do this when ever your dog is beside you and in as many locations as possible.
So now you should see your dog, noticing you and making a beeline to be with you and accept these things. This is when you can put a word on this behaviour. Now if you have a serial recall offender ….. change the word you use. COME is done finished rotten, broken.
Here are a few suggestions, “Here”, “Close”, “Cuddles”
Now it is really up to you but why say “Here Here Here” when you can say it only once … so before you charge off to practice .. I know you are so keen. Commit to saying the cue once. It is much easier for the dog to learn, you are doing them a favour.
What matters is what happens when they come to you ….. It needs to be reinforcing, something they would like to do/receive/eat/play again.
Why is the when so important?
You are reinforcing the behaviour, the behavior of moving towards you, the one you want. If you give all the good stuff before they move towards you, you are negotiating.
Ok, back to the training
So we are still at the point of saying the word “Here” when the dog has already chosen to move towards us.
To move forward to the part where we say ” Here” and they act and move towards us …. is now
Start training in your front garden or in a quiet end of a part of a park/ cul de sac.
Now to set your dog up to learn quickly and accurately. You need to be dynamic systematic ( Grease fans).
You need to Call your dog’s name ” Fido ” and then use your cue “here ” and when they take that first step, towards you, get to them quickly, praise them and reinforce them. The skill is in raising the number of steps they take towards you whilst still making it fun.
A word of warning
Some dog owners get so excited by their dog moving to them that they continue to raise the distance, so every time their dogs succeed they have to work harder. Now I don’t know about you but working harder for the same pay, working 3 times, 4 times harder for same pay … umm, I think I might quit!
So keep your sessions short 3-4 trials and then play something different.
Slow recalls are better than no recall but not much so once you have a recall over a short distance. Stop ! and think about what you want to teach next …. speedy over the same distance so only praise and reinforce the faster returns. Count in your head how long it takes them to get from A to B and then only praise returns of that speed or faster. Do not make the session long … 3 to 4 goes and play something else.
So now you have a speedy short recall, Let;s work on increasing distance. Don’t worry about the speed just distance. Increase the distances by 50cm at a time. Throw in some shorter once in to boost their confidence too.
Now when you have the distance go back and work the speed
Now you have a faster reasonable recall in your garden now take it on the road. Train when there is no one at the park. If there are dogs in the park then you know your dog will be distracted go up to them and call from 50 cm away. Praise like crazy that first step they take to you and reinforce as if this was just training at home.
Umm, can’t be bothered to get that close before calling your dog …… Well you can try and fluke it you may get lucky but more than 50% chance the dog will be having fun and choose to continue what they are doing . 50% pass rate.Ummm
So be bothered to get in close, You deserve it, you have put in all the ground work at home, praise those first steps, reinforce with something they want again. 100% pass rate
But most importantly don’t let it slide. It is a skill and it needs muscle memory of getting it correct if it is going to stick.
Happy calling your dogs.
For more about dogs and dog training
Check out www.letsgofido.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org