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The UnReliable Recall

by Michelle St Germain on 10/31/12

Most of us at one time or another have chased our dog down the street at 2am wearing nothing but a bathrobe and slippers.  These are memories that we tend not to scrapbook about, but most likely these are best forgotten for preservation of the family dog.  Does this sound at all familiar?  When we first bring home that cute brown curly haired little puppy, we instantly fall in love.  We take for granted that in a few months time this cute little bundle of fluff will become a holy terror if training isn't started right away.  A dog with no rules is not a valued member of the family and is often rehomed by the age of 2. 

     One of the most important behaviors to focus on is the recall.  Getting your dog to come to you when you call it.  Not only does this behaviour reduce the stress in a family it will also at some point save the dog's life.  An important factor to remember is that the life span of said puppy is 12 to 14 years, that is a lot of trips down the street in the middle of the night wearing your underwear screaming at the dog to come back!

     That cute little puppy that followed us around aimlessly, will soon figure out that freedom is just a few steps away, an open door away, a frustrating chase down the driveway away, the list goes on...  Why is the puppy now choosing the environment over us?  The simple answer is that in many cases it is a lot more interesting than we are.  That gross pile of horse manure he found is a delicacy, the other dog he ran across the street to is a good time, that unsuspecting human taking a walk by your house is fun to jump on and grab and then there is YOU!!!  You are most likely yelling, possibly cursing, trying to grab and is generally really MAD.  With all good reasons for the previous reactions, the dog will begin to look at you as the fun police.    The body language you are portraying at that moment is the reason of all future recall failures.  So what is an owner to do?

     Recalls need to be practiced and practiced and then practiced some more .  They have to be practiced in different areas of your house, yard, neighbourhood,park, beach, dog park, with dogs around, without dogs around, with humans around, with squirrals around, while on the hunt, yada, yada, yada.  With all that being said, when will you start to see the results you are looking for?  Here is a list of important rules to follow consistently:

RULE 1:  Limit the dog's freedom.  Each and every time your dog practices running away from you and self reinforcing, he is creating a bad habit.  A habit which is COME means "keep doing what you are doing, until they catch you first".  A leash or a long line will help to ensure that your dog cannot ignore you.  Regardless if you have an acre lot or a small backyard...a dog that doesn't come when called is a danger to itself and to others. 

RULE #2:  If you say the word COME , you must be able to follow through and make it happen.  Don't call your dog if you know he will not come to you.  Go get him!  You cannot say it and then walk away.  Don't allow Curly to ignore you!  If you say it and then allow the dog to continue what he is doing:  Score 1 for the puppy, 0 for the human!  We are supposed to be able to outsmart an animal.

RULE #3:    REWARDS need to happen each and every time.  Rewards need to be the "be all and end all" of treats.  Rewards need to continue to be given until you feel that your dog gets the concept of coming when called.  We worry way to much about the amount of treats we give to a dog.  We need to convince the dog without a shadow of a doubt that we are the best choice each and every time.  The more you payout in the training, the more reliable the behavior will become, the more effective it will become and the quicker it will come.  You will not need treats forever.  The rewards need to be awesome and better than whatever it is that keeps your dog away from you!  Take advantage of your dog's weaknesses.

RULE #4:    Be FUN!!!  Who wants to come back to something boring.  Play with your dog during training.  Play Hide & Seek with your dog.  Run away from your dog.  ignite your dog to want to be with you.  If you are having fun, your dog will too!!

RULE #5:   Never call your dog to you and dicipline it in anyway.  If you are angry with your dog, let him know with a firm voice at the moment he misbehaves, not at the moment be comes running back to you.  You have just reprimanded the come if you do that.  Remember a dog associates dicipline or reward with the last behavior what was occuring a the moment of the dicipline or reward!

RULE #6:  ties in with rule 5.  Never call your dog to put it away in the crate or trim his nails.  If your dog preceives the activity as negative then never do a recall and reward them with a nail trim.  :(  Simply go to the dog and take them to where you want them to go. 

RULE #7:    Even after the dog runs off at some point it will return to you.  If you reprimand him for returning regardless of how peeved you are...you are making a BIG MISTAKE....he won't return to you next time.  Simply ignore the dog, say nothing, calm down and tomorrow start training a more reliable recall with your dog.

RULE #8:  Practice several times a day,  every day of the week.  It won't take long.  You need to take your dog out everyday anyways, practice on your walks, practice in the park.  Sunddenly stop, back up and call Rover to you.  You can do 20 recalls during a walk, 7 days a week.  Thats 140 recalls a week.  Repetition is the key.  Dogs learn like toddlers, by practicing over and over again.  Unfortunately, they cannot read this BLOG and learn to come any faster without the commitment of their human.  Well, a Border Collie probably can!

     After all is said and done and you have practiced and practiced.  I do guarantee that your dog will learn to COME to you when you call upon him to.  Never underestimate how much practicing you have done with your dog unless you have tested him in several environments and against different distractions.  The little brown curly adolecent dog you once fell in love with will thank you for all your hard work and time you committed.  You may even find yourself hugging him instead of wanting to strangle him!  The late night bathroom trips to the yard will also be shorter and less awkward.  Although your neighbours late night entertainment will come to an end.

If you are interested in a private one on one session to teach your dog to COME, let me know.  I would be happy to help.  We can work together to get the results you are looking for.  In 2013, Happy Tails will be offering a Recall Workshop specifically for anyone experiencing Recall Turmoil on a regular basis.  Call or email for more details.

    

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