Today I'm going share about Nola's recall and radius training. Recall is the single most important cue for you dog to know, and in this house it's taken very, very seriously. Nola's recall training started as soon as she came home at 8 weeks old, and by 10 months old she was 100% reliable. It's something we practice each day, and it's by far Nola's favorite cue because it's a fun and rewarding job in her mind.
I take no stock in the idea that Dachshunds, being both a scent hound and a terrier, are impossible to have off leash due to prey drive, stubbornness, or any other half hearted excuse people can throw at me. Was recall training with Nola more difficult than say, a Lab or Border Collie? Depends on how you look at it. Dachshunds don't have the innate desire to please their owners like most herders and retrievers do. They need a reason to do what you want; "Why do you want me to do that?" instead of "Tell me what next! I'll do it, please tell me!". Some people take the Dach's mentality as a pain in the ass and simply don't train, whereas others like myself find it an engaging and rewarding challenge and partnership. It's all about your attitude when it comes to training.
Nola and I had an instant bond from the second we laid eyes on one another. From the time she was 8 weeks old, she's been my shadow. She's almost always by my side, indoors or out, and if she isn't right next to me she has her eyes on me from a few yards away. This, I found as I experimented with little Miss Nola, was an invaluable trait. She already wanted to be close to me and was in tune with me, all I had to do was reinforce it and put it on cue. So I did.
I started by clicking and treating (actually it was verbal marker, but for the sake of this post it was a clicker) her when she came up to me, and then for being by my side. I did not lure her to come to me or to stay by my side; I'd give the treats sporadically and at total random after she'd already done the behavior. Nola's a very quick learner, and it didn't take her long to realize that good things happened when you stuck with Mom. This ties in with her radius training, which I'll discuss in a minute.
So, now that Nola knows to stick with me, I give it a cue words: "by me" or "right here" for staying with me, and "come" for coming to me. I don't use "by me" much any more, since it's so ingrained in her she doesn't really stray off, but in the beginning it was a great way to remind her puppy brain what we were suppose to be doing.
Now that I've introduced the recall word, each time I say the word "come" she's heavily praised and given tons of yummy treats. Didn't take but a few reps before she was coming every. single. time. All this at just 5 months old! So we work at it more, in more difficult situations (keep in mind this is still all indoors); maybe with me in the kitchen and her in the living room, or me in the laundry room and her in the bedroom. Instantly, she gets it. We do this over and over and over and over again, so it becomes basically muscle memory for her; "come" = get my lil' booty over to Mom ASAP.
Time to up the ante and move outside. On a long line, I'd let Nola explore our (unfenced, hence the leash) yard until she was totally satisfied and no longer distracted. Then I'd call her to me while backing up quickly, using her desire to stick by me to my advantage once again. She'd come barreling at me, and once she reached me she'd get the mother load of treats, praise, excited high pitched voice and crazy belly rubs. We kept at it like this for about a month, since I firmly believe you can never be too through when creating a solid foundation for your dog's recall, then increased distraction.
Still in the backyard on leash, I'd only give her about 30 seconds of sniffing and looking before calling her. She comes at me, and she gets a huge party when she arrives. "This is so much better than sniffing around the boring yard!" she thinks. Once again kept at this for around a month, then moved to the neighborhood park (once again on long line).
There I repeated the exercises we did when we first moved outdoors, gradually moving over to the second outdoor exercise. Once she was consistently coming to me as soon as we came to the park, we moved to more and more distracting locations. Bigger parks, stores, outdoor restaurants, different houses, the beach, ect, while still reinforcing recalling in our house and yard. By then Nola was about 10 months old, and had been flawless with her recalls every single time.
Two months later when we went to the beach, I felt Nola was trust worthy enough to go off leash. I recalled her every few minutes, and heavily praised her for both her return and staying close to my side. She was totally flawless.
Since then, she's only ignored a recall once, and that was because she was severely underweight and starving and went for food. :( Once she was back at a normal weight, her recall was flawless and is still flawless. Recalls, especially off leash ones, are always very heavily rewarded. It's the only cue I believe in praising (when I say praise, I mean food. I always verbally praise her for a correct cue) every single time.
Which brings me to the next portion of this, and that is Nola's radius training. I don't know about you, but I don't like it when my dog is more than a few hundred feet in front of me when off leash, and am never okay her being behind me and out of my line of sight. Call me nervous, but I want my dog close to me and I want to be able to see her at all times, especially when I'm relying solely on verbal control and don't have the physical control of a leash. Which is why I've taught Nola to stay within a certain radius of me, to never go behind me, and to stop and wait if she gets out of that radius. When she was first allowed off leash, her radius was only about 10ft in front of me. The older she gets (and hence, more training she has), the bigger her radius gets. She's now allowed to go up to around 300ft in front or to the side of me, but still never behind. She is usually much closer, either by my side in a very loose heel or a few yards in front, but she will on occasion utilize her freedom.
Sounds complicated and difficult, right? Surprisingly, it wasn't. We started by doing the first part of the recall training I described above, and from then on it was fairly easy.
Once that initial foundation of wanting to be with me was established and she was allowed off leash, I'd say her name if she got further away than I was comfortable with. She'd stop to look back at me, and I'd click and treat her. She'd come racing back to me for her reward, and after treating her I'd tell her "okay, you can go ahead'', which is her cue that she can move away from me if she wishes. If she got further than I liked, I'd repeat this.
Soon she got the idea to stay close by me, and once she realized she had to stay close she'd get to the edge of her imaginary bubble and come back to my side for praise and her cue to explore if she liked. How I increase it is, once she gets to that invisible line and stops, I tell her she can go on ahead a bit. It's quite easy since my dog is smart. :p
That was a great thing for her to know, but sometimes I wanted to stop and take pictures without her coming and shoving her way in front of the camera (the Kielbasa is a diva through and through) and/or scaring off my subject. I wanted to teach her a way to stay at the edge of her radius until I started moving again and the walk moved forward. "What the hell," I thought. "I'm just going to try this and see what she does. No harm, no foul." So once she was nearing the edge of her bubble, I called her name and told her "Hold up a sec, B" while raising my hand, palm towards her in a "stop" gesture. I was shocked when she plunked her butt to the ground and sat there looking at me, unmoving. Once I got over being dumbfounded I clicked/treated and showered her with praise. After a few reps of it, she got it. And now I can stop whenever I'd like and she'll stop, too!
|Click to enlarge.|
|This is her staying while I photographed some birds.|
A well trained dog is a joy to live with, and positive training builds an unbreakable bond between human and animal. Take the time to train your dog, and you'll be so glad you did!