"When people are having difficulty with Recalls (any cued behavior really), the reason is a breakdown in communication. Although I will not rule out an intentional attitude on occasion in some dogs, I will look at the OVERALL behavior of the dog before I judge. If the dog only responds "on occasion" or "when he wants to" to most cues, there is a communication error...we have not taught an appropriate response to the cue and thus the dog does NOT truly understand that cue.
For example: If the dog reliably plants their rear on the ground in EVERY ENVIRONMENT when the owner says Sit and then suddenly "forgets", then this is a mistake. If the dog requires multiple cues for Sit, only listens in the house or yard on occasion, etc...The dog has NOT learned Sit and we must back up a bit, teach a solid foundation and response to the cue, and then we can start proofing the cue to prevent future mistakes.
My definition of Sit is: my dog's rear plants onto the ground immediately upon hearing the "Sit" regardless of what he was doing, where he was going, where I am in relation to him, and in various distractions. Immediate response to a cue could potentially save his life, so I teach one-cued, "naked" obedience (collar on, collar off, my dog responds to the first cue).
So what does Sit have to do with Recall, you ask? Everything! The point is: If your dog does not respond to something fairly innocuous, like Sit, then a Reliable Recall in an emergency, when they are in much higher adrenaline drive, will also be ignored. Sadly, dogs typically do not come in with the leash attached when they have been hit by a car...usually they were hit because they suddenly darted into traffic, after a squirrel, just to run away from an owner, after darting out of the front door, etc...
There are so many reasons why dogs do not "listen" and my best advice for beginning a Reliable Recall is this:
* Reward your dog by giving treats, playing with them, petting and praising them ANYTIME they are interacting with you, ESPECIALLY if you say their name, and they come running! Doesn't matter if you are in the house, out in the yard, in the pet store, etc...If you said your pet's name ONCE and they responded...CELEBRATE! This only reinforces "when I hear my name, I come running and get tons of treats and praise".
* NEVER punish your dog when they come over by you. I don't care if you just had to chase them 5 blocks...Be EXCITED that they are choosing you over running some more. If if they are pestering you, the best thing to do is IGNORE them (no eye contact, no verbal, nothing...just walk away) rather than tell them a negative. Being with you should be a positive experience for your dog. ... The more fun YOU are (and sometimes that means being less available on a whim), the less fun the squirrel is.
* If your dog DOES dart out of the front door, go outside and follow for two steps, then run the OTHER way, enticing your dog to come chase you. This will at least help you get some directional control of where they are headed and then grab some treats, play a quick game, and then tell them Sit or Down and happily gather them up, praising them for listening to you. Do NOT punish them for something they did 3, or even 1, minute ago! Dogs live in the now! On top of that, start working a "wait" cue at the doorways NOW to prevent darting out.
Too often we ignore our dogs when they are doing it "right" (the way we want) and then we negate everything they do wrong...only reinforcing that what they do wrong is what gets attention! I help people see the opposite...REINFORCE what they do right, ignore what they do wrong and you will already be ahead of the game by establishing a better training relationship with your pet. Then, we can do things like a Hide N Seek game to help make recalls fun. Call your pet once to different areas of the house to "find" you and give treats for finding you.
So how do I teach Beginning Recalls?
* Make NOISE first...to get your pet heading over to you. Then, say your dog's name AS THEY ARE COMING OVER (as the behavior is occurring), then mark the behavior as correct (I use a happy YES! - because they are coming to you, which is the right decision), then reach for the treat and let them come get it. This order is extremely important. Too often owners forget a step (or more) and then do not understand why their pet doesn't listen. We must establish CLEAR communication with our pets. It's like me saying something to you in French a couple of times and then having you go represent the country and say it once in front of a French Ambassador. Only through repetitions, studying the exact pronunciation, and having a good teacher could we be able to do something like that!
When broken down into manageable steps, training is actually easy. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise! Whether teaching a person or a pet, learning theory remains the same and what we learn with pleasure, we rarely forget!
1) Get the behavior to occur WITHOUT using the cue that you will say long-term. I use noises, a treat lure, or simply "capture" the behavior when it occurs naturally.
2) Cue the behavior as it is occurring - I made noise and my dog is running over to me excitedly, I would say "Guinness, Come!" as he is running to me.
3) Mark the behavior as correct - I use a "Yes!" to tell him he did it right.
4) Pay the behavior - I use a treat or toy. The paycheck has got to be VERY good in the beginning, because we want the dog to think "if I come running I get this AWESOME treat!" We can fade from treats later when we see the habit is solid...for now, pay BIG!
5) Repeat 1-2 more times, in different spots, so move around and then end the "training session" and PLAY! Do NOT make coming to you boring. Too often we don't make it fun by repeating it so many times that the dog goes away, bored or frustrated. I want my dogs thinking, "Wait! I wasn't done yet! Let's do it some more!" but I will walk always walk away happily and we'll play the "training game" again later.
Keeping sessions short and successful creates DRIVE in the dog. This also teaches them that the BEST rewards come when they listen THE FIRST TIME."
Until next time, Happy Training
For more information or to setup a one-on-one training consultation with Julie, please call us at: 262-308-2523