August 2019 Training Challenge: Proof Your Pet’s Recall

Happy August! Boy, 2019 is just flying by! Let’s jump right into our new challenge, shall we? Our August 2019 training challenge is: 

Proof your pet’s recall. 

Let’s break down this challenge for those of you who are new to the lingo. Proofing refers to generalizing a behavior or teaching the same thing in a lot of different scenarios. Essentially, proofing is the process by which we create consistent behaviors. Check out our blog post on “Why You Should Care About the Stages of Learning” for more info and videos on proofing. Recall refers to your pet coming when called. So proofing your pet’s recall means working with your pet so they consistently come when called. Who doesn’t want that?!

This is another challenge that you can do with any pet– and I mean any! Before adopting Oso I had two rats: River and Melody. Each night they were allowed out of their cage to wander around and explore the house. I used a recall cue (something that says, “Hey, please come here.” IE: “come”) to get them back into their enclosure when playtime was over. The recall cue for my girls was simply rustling their food bag (the lazy trainer’s cue!) When they heard the bag both would make their way back to their cage for dinner. I wish I had taken a video; River running at full-speed from wherever she was was pretty darn cute. 

I encourage training a recall cue for all of your pets as recalls can be used for a variety of things, such as:

  • Safety! If they’re running into traffic or investigating a rattlesnake a solid recall cue could potentially save your pet’s life. 
  • Redirecting them from a less desirable behavior. Let’s say your dog is investigating the garbage can. He can’t get into the garbage and come to you at the same time! 
  • Relocating them. This is how I used recalls for River & Melody as a way to get them back in their enclosure and how I often get Oso back in the house from the yard. 
  • Exercise! You can turn this into a physical exercise game in addition to the mental exercise they get from training by asking them to come from one person to another. They get some running in while you get to sit. 

Clearly there are a lot of uses for recalls in all of your pets’ daily lives! But how do we proof this? There are two main criteria to focus on when proofing your recalls:

  1. Distance: how far away your pet is
  2. Distractions: what’s going on in the environment 

For those of you who like using guidelines to come up with your own training exercises, check out our proofing videos (Part 1 & Part 2) and have at it! For those of you who like a little more direction, read on for some specific tasks to work on this month: 

  1. Distance: ask your pet to come to you from the following distances (use a long-line [ie: 20’ leash] if you don’t have a fenced-in yard to practice in)
    1. 2’
    2. 4’
    3. 6’
    4. 8’
    5. 10’
    6. 15’
    7. 20’
    8. 30’
  2. Distractions: ask your pet to come to you when the following distractions are happening
    1. Household member walking in the same area
    2. Someone throwing a toy in the air to themselves
    3. Someone making funny noises
    4. While the pet is investigating something 
    5. When there’s another animal at a distance
    6. Past toys on the ground
    7. Past food on the ground 

Finally, here are some tips to make your training more successful:

  • Reward with something great every time. Because this is a safety behavior it needs to work. Use awesome treats and use them consistently. This isn’t a time to be stingy with your reward. They should get the animal equivalent of $1000 every time they come to you.
  • Be consistent with your cue. If you train the word “come” don’t substitute with “c’mere”, “c’mon”, “here”, etc. unless you’ve trained all of them. 
  • Start where your animal is in their learning process and work up to where you want them to be. Goals are great but simply wanting them to happen doesn’t make learning go quicker. For instance, we need to start in lower distracting environments and work our way up to more distracting environments at the pace of the animal. Check out our video here on how to know when to move on to the next step in your training plan. 
  • If your pet isn’t successful with a new criterion, go back to the last thing they were successful with and find an easier next step. For example: if practicing recalls on a walk is too difficult for your dog, practice first in the backyard. 
  • Ask your pet to come to you more frequently than you need them to. We often inadvertently punish our animals for coming to us because recalls often stop the fun they’re having. If 9/10 times they get their $1000 and get to continue having fun the 1/10 times where the fun does stop won’t be as impactful. 

Now what?

  • Start proofing your recalls! 
  • Check out our August training challenge video on Facebook
  • Share your results! Comment here or post a video on Facebook of your pet coming when called! 

Happy training!