If your dog slips from his collar or sees a fight breaks out at the dog park, will he respond to your “come” cue? When your dog is in harm’s way, a solid recall can save him from danger. These are some of the most frequent errors that handlers make when teaching their dogs to come when called. Do you make any of them?
Mistake 1: “Come” means “the fun is over”
One of the biggest mistakes is to cue “come,” and when your dog runs to you, he is confronted with a negative consequence. For example, if you only call him when it’s time to leave the dog park, it’s no wonder he doesn’t like the word “come.” Imagine if your friend called you over and, when you arrived, she promptly threw a pie in your face. Wouldn’t you think twice the next time she asks you to come close to her? The fact is that, particularly with recall, your dog can choose whether to comply with your cue or to blow you off. Make sure he wants to choose you.
The solution: When you practice recall (which should be often!), make sure there is a positive consequence to coming. When Fido comes to you, start a game of fetch. Or reward with a treat. Or provide any other positive result. When it’s time to leave the dog park, reward Fido for coming with a piece of cheese, and then clip on the leash to leave.
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My newest video focuses on one of the most important training behaviors: recall! BKLN Manners uses a hand target for recall, as many dogs seem to find "touch" a lot more fun than "come." (To see the steps of a basic hand target, watch my video here.) And if your dog thinks it's fun, he'll respond much more easily.
This video features the perfect pittie duo Penelope and LooseSeal (Check them out here on Instagram!) Recently LooseSeal slipped out the front door and gave her family a scare as she played the "can't catch me" game. The recall techniques we used in this training session are meant to prevent a future incident.
As with all training, the key is to increase the difficulty methodically, raising only one criterion at a time. As you'll see in the video, we are increasing either distance between dog and handler or distraction level, such as toys in the vicinity. Both Penny and Loosey nailed their recalls during our session, meaning they can soon start to practice on long lines in areas that offer slightly greater distance and more distractions, like a quiet corner of a park.
Does this frustrating behavior sound familiar? “My dog always comes when called…. except at the park.”
Not only is this frustrating for owners, but it can be dangerous if your dog won’t come to you when danger is present. Fortunately there are steps you can take to teach your dog that coming to you is actually the best part of his outing, not the end of the fun.
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Allow me to introduce my all-time favorite training behavior: the subtle but mighty Hand Target! While one of the lesser-used techniques among owners, Hand Targeting has so many practical applications that it is well worth teaching it to your dog. Rather than explain it in writing, watch this video to see Hand Targeting in action.
Hand Targeting teaches your dog to touch his nose to your outstretched hand. “Why on earth would I want to do such a thing,” you ask? Once your dog can come to you and “boop” your hand, the possibilities for polite indoor and outdoor behavior are endless. For instance:
Having introduced the Emergency Recall in the previous blog post, now it’s time to practice it in a variety of real-life situations, so your dog will come back to you even if he spots a squirrel or slips from his collar. Click "Read More" to see the video of Beans learning Emergency Recall. The more you practice this, the more ingrained the “kiss-and-treat” sequence becomes in your dog’s mind, and the more easily he will be able to come back to you, no matter what.
When you start practicing Emergency Recall outside, choose a relatively quiet location. Make your kissy (or other unique) noise, and reach down to give your dog a treat regardless of what he’s doing. Once your dog clearly understands this sequence, you can start to add other elements.
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!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, 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.