Recall 911: Coming when it Counts
For the typical urban dog owner, nothing is scarier than the thought of your dog slipping out of his collar and taking off down (or worse, across) the street. The first thing I teach my own new rescue dogs is an Emergency Recall -- a cue that will get my dog to come back to me, regardless of the situation. It’s incredibly simple to teach and can be a building block to more advanced training, like loose leash walking and “leave it.” I’ve only had to use Emergency Recall in a real emergency once, when Beans’s leash slipped out of my hand and she darted towards a squirrel in the middle of the street. Because we’d been practicing the recall regularly, as soon as she heard the cue, she she stopped in her tracks, spun around and raced back to me.
Emergency Recall simply pairs a unique sound you make -- in my case, a kissy noise -- with a delicious treat. In the dog’s mind, this sound comes to mean “cookie time!” So naturally, he will stop whatever he is doing and come galloping to you. In fact, your dog doesn’t have to actually “do” anything to get the treat. You’re simply teaching him that a kissy noise is followed by a treat, regardless of what he does. Though you are not overtly teaching the dog to come, by making this very strong association of “kissy noise = treat,” the end result is a solid, enthusiastic recall.
There is one catch. Because we are using classical conditioning, you will never fade out treats. Think Pavlov’s dogs and the bell; the bell only triggered salivation because it predicted food. Take away the food, and over time the bell becomes meaningless. Same goes for the kissy noise. Before you complain, “But I don’t want to give my dog a treat every time I practice this,” ask yourself, “Do I want my dog to come back if he gets off leash?” This is for emergencies, after all. While you can certainly use other training techniques for recall, the strength of this classically conditioned association makes it worth the extra treat or two per day.
Though I practiced Emergency Recall constantly when I first adopted my dogs, I now do it on a “maintenance” level: one kiss-and-treat per day while we’re on walks. This keeps it fresh in the dog’s mind.
The video below shows what the sequence looks like. To see how Emergency Recall can be a building block to more advanced training, especially when outdoors, check back here for future posts and keep an eye out for the BKLN Manners™ book coming in early 2018!
To Train or Not to Train?
When your goal is to modify an unwanted behavior, whether it’s from your dog, your kids, or yourself, you always have two options:
Problem: My dog gets underfoot while I’m cooking in the kitchen.
Management Strategy: Block his access to the kitchen. There are several ways to do this.
Training Strategy: Teach him to go to his bed while you cook.
Teach your dog a Place cue, which is a behavior that is incompatible with kitchen scavenging. (If his butt is firmly on the dog bed, he can’t be walking around the kitchen.) I prefer teaching an alternative behavior like Place to simply telling the dog, “No!” or “go away”; shooing him away simply tells your dog what he shouldn’t do (and that’s if he understands it at all), whereas Place tells him what he should do instead. It’s a win-win.
For almost every undesirable behavior, it’s wise to consider both management and training, as they can often complement one another. In the example above, until your dog has learned a solid Place (which will be discussed in detail in future posts), the management strategy can keep the problem from exacerbating.
Stay tuned for future posts outlining management and training strategies to address a number of urban dog issues. Got a request? Email me!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified Fear Free professional, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author.
The views expressed on this website belong to Kate Naito and may not reflect the views of the agencies with which she trains.