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We say we want to provide our dogs agency. We say we want to give them options. We say we want them to feel like they have a choice in the life they live. So why do all the dog trainers and all the dog owners keep drilling away at recalls??? Why do we keep asking our dogs to come!??!?!?!
Because of safety (and probably many other very appropriate reasons as well).
We can help manage situations, circumvent issues, and protect our pup if we can get that ever-so-sought-after “Rock Solid Recall.” There are too many scenarios that may occur where it is in the best interest of our dogs, and of those around them, for the pups to run excitedly to our side when we say “come.”
How do we do it? The age-old checklist
- Prepare the environment for success
- Reinforce/reward desired behaviors
- Incrementally increase distractions, duration, distance, etc.
About a month ago I was filming some training sessions of myself with Opie and I noticed that he was not consistently coming to me when cued with “Opie, come!”. Either something else in the environment was more rewarding (continuing to lay on the comfy couch, catching spare shreds of cheese dropping from my son’s hands, etc.), or I was making it too difficult for him (too far away, in a new environment, etc.). Feeling the pressures of embarrassment from experiencing a failed recall while filming AND re-living it while watching my video, I reflected on this and I sadly realized that I don’t have a Rock Solid Recall.
Until I accidentally found out that I did.
Every time I said “Opie, Come!”, I wanted him to excitedly come by me; however, I wasn’t making it worth his while. Some of the time, I did not reward him in proportion to the level of difficulty of actually coming. Most of the time, I asked him to come when I really didn’t care if he did or didn’t come, I just wanted to give some lovin’–if he didn’t feel like it, I let it go because it wasn’t necessary and I don’t need to pet him if he doesn’t want the petting.
I wasn’t consistent with my expectations for his behavior after the cue, and I wasn’t consistent with my reinforcement of the cue “Opie, Come!”
But then, a glimmer of hope shone through my recall woes when I was assembling dinner. I had a spare piece of fat that Opie just NEEDED to consume, so I said “Opie, do you want this?!” I heard his jingle jangle of tags tear down the hallway and he slid expectantly into home base. Opie has a recall, it’s just not what I purposely trained.
I took a second to reflect on how I accidentally trained this. To get the food, Opie needs to be next to me. I consistently reinforce this by giving him what I have, why else would I say “do you want this?” The value of the treat changes depending on what is on the chopping block, so I keep his interest piqued. It’s the perfect combo to keep him excited and interested in moving his body close to mine. I’ve started to proof this behavior so that I’m not only cuing it from the kitchen, and soon, I’ll be able to use it in the event I really need him to be by my side.
And as for “Come?”
I still use it, it just makes too much sense in my human brain, but it’s not my recall word. I now think of it more as an invitation for Opie to join me rather than a cue I can use for safety if I need it.
- Ask yourself, “Do I have a Rock Solid Recall? Why is this important to me? Why would this be important to my dog?” The answers will kick start your training plan.
- Consider resetting your recall cue. Start back with the basics to get a good reinforcement history going. If you’re stuck, no worries, your friendly Pet Harmony Team is here to help.