Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Come One, Come All! Tips For a Solid Recall - Positive Pet Training Blog Hop

Hey, everyone!

It's time again for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days! This month's theme is the all important Recall, but as always, you're more than welcome to share any positive based training tips.

A recall is one of the most valuable things you can teach your dog, and few things are as comforting to a dog owner as having a pup that will come when called, without hesitance or question. Not only does it open the door to tons of fun and exercise (off leash hikes! Dog parks! Beaches!), it can save your dog's life. Depending on your dog, recall can also be the absolute hardest thing to train!

Nola, my dachshund stereotype defier, has a rock solid recall. Hours and hours have gone into working with her, but it's definitely paid off. Recall's actually one of my favorite things to train, and it's definitely up there on Nola's list of "best things ever". I can't even express to you how handy it is to have a dog that will come when she's called!

Here is my advice on recall training, ranging from when puppy first comes home to tips to keep an adult dog focused on the task at hand. Enjoy!

A good recall lets you get some pretty spectacular shots. 

A note before we start:

While all dogs should be worked with on recall, not all dogs should be off leash. Know thy dog!

Take advantage of your puppy

Most puppies will naturally follow you around for the first weeks or months you have them, depending on the individual. This is the best possible time to start working on their future recall! Reward the crap out of them for following you and sticking close, run away from them and have a party when they reach you, all that good stuff. Setting a good foundation now will be invaluable in the future. 

 Don't ask unless they can follow through

Until your dog is reliably responding to your recall word of their own accord, don't ask them for it. The fastest way to "poison your cue" is to recall your dog when they either don't know it, haven't been taught to listen to it, or will blow you off. Then you're stuck choosing a new word and reteaching it all over again! Unless you can guarantee - or at least help enforce - your dog's recall, don't call them. This leads us to our next tip.

The best recall tool is a leash

Yep, you read that right! Your best tool for teaching a solid recall is a leash, be it a standard one or a long line. In the early days of your teaching, a leash attached to the harness gives you a gentle way to remind your pup of what you're asking. A faint, gentle pull of the leash in your direction helps show your pup what you want. Don't yank and pull your dog towards you; all you have to do is give the slightest pressure in your direction, just enough to make the leash move. 
As soon as they move in your direction, click and reward. 
Another benefit of the leash is it gives the illusion of freedom while keeping your dog safe.

Check in time!

It's important to recall your dog every so often to check in with you when she's off leash; this helps illustrate that a recall doesn't mean the fun is over, and is a great way to remind your dog of why coming to you is so great. 
However, your heavy rewards can decrease in value the more you use them, as the novelty wears off. This runs the risk of lessening their effectiveness, and no one wants that.

Teach your dog to check in with you under a different cue than your recall word and give a smaller/less high value reward, then turn them right back out to go about whatever they were doing. The instant allowance of freedom will add to the reward of coming to you.
Or, if you're lucky enough to have a dog that will naturally check in like Nola, you can capture that and reward it as you would the taught cue.

Personally, I've both taught a check in cue ("hey" or "over here") and reinforced her natural inclination to see what I'm up to. I like covering my bases!

Turning back for a check in!

Recall is always rewarded

I put all other cues on a variable or intermittent reinforcement schedule, but recall is always rewarded. A variable reinforcement schedule is where you only reward one in every five sits, for example. This type of schedule not only allows you to wean out food in your clicker training, but it keeps the dog on her toes and constantly guessing when that reward will come through. I always verbally reward when Nola responds correctly, but a treat isn't always in the mix for her. 

Recall is the exception to that. Each and every recall gets a food reward on top of verbal or physical praise, or a good strong game of tug if she's in the mood for it.

Part of the reason I do this is because recall is one of two cues that always must be followed (emergency "leave it" is the other), and guaranteeing something epic for your when they come to you greatly tips the odds in your favor of it happening without fail. 

 Dogs aren't robots - don't be stupid with your off leash choices

No matter how extensively your dog is trained, she's still a living, thinking creature, and not a robot. No matter how much work you've put into training her, she can still blow you off. It may not be likely, but it's possible. The best you can hope for is a 99% response rate, and you have to take that into account when it comes to where you let your dog off leash. 

While Nola would more than likely listen in every situation, I only let her off in low danger areas such as the beach, certain wooded areas, ect. You have to weigh the risks against the benefits, and honestly access where your dog is at in his or her training. 

In 5 years, Nola's only blown off a recall once. Thankfully it was at a nearly deserted beach half a mile from the road, with no other dogs around, and she ran right to where our stuff was left. 
Hundreds and hundreds of off leash ventures, and only one fail. Very good in hindsight, but still, there's nothing quite as scary as calling your dog and having her not come.
 I'm glad the fail happened in a relatively safe place. Stack the odds in your favor, and be proactive with your dog's safety.

This beach is off leash friendly, and I trust Nola's recall. However, it's less than a hundred yards from a very busy road, there were tons of other, large dogs out of frame, and careless people abound.
Would it have been okay? Yeah, probably.
Was it worth the risk? For me, no. Leash stayed on. 

Don't let your dog off in dangerous situations, even if you're certain they'll listen. High traffic or very crowded areas are no place for an off leash dog, regardless their training. Also, obey the leash law. 

 Engage, engage, engage!

Don't be passive when your dog is off leash! Keeping engaged with your dog, either through play or working through other cues, helps to keep your dog focused and intent on you, and therefore makes it easier to recall your dog if need be if she's engaged with you. 
A dog that's at least partially focused on where you are and what you're doing is much easier to recall than a dog that's doing her own thing. Rewarding interaction with you also reinforces your dog as to where "the good stuff" is.

Some fun and easy things to do while off leash to keep the focus on you:
Targeting (hand, foot, ect)
Sit pretty
Eye contact/"Watch me!"
Jump through legs or arms

Simple, easy tricks are a great way to keep your dog focused on you. 

So are photo shoots, actually!

So there you have it! Those are the  biggest things that helped me teach Nola to come to me. What are you tips?

- Dachshund Mommy


  1. Love the "don't be stupid with your off leash choices." That was me for a long time and today, I cringe at the memory of walking my dogs off leash.

    Thanks for the great tips.

  2. Unfortunately Elliot has never been off the extension lead on a walk, I know too well if another dog came over he would be off.
    You should do this for a living.
    Lynne x

  3. Thank you for posting more good tips that mom did not consider
    Lily & Edward

  4. I love this. Thank you so much. I need to do a lot more with Cocoa Bean on perfecting recall!!

  5. Great post! I love training recalls, too! I also agree with you about rewarding every single recall. I always have and always will!

  6. Various stages of strong - I love that!!!

  7. I'm so glad you added in not to be stupid with your off leash choices. Every week I see dogs at the park (not a dog park mind you) off leash & obviously not listening to their owner as they chase rabbits, run after other dogs or people, etc.

  8. I couldn't agree more that dogs are not robots. Even the best trained dog might mess up so safety is paramount! I'm lucky to live in a place where there aren't lots of cars or other urban dangers.... but a leash is sometimes the best insurance I can have! Great post!

  9. I really want to take BabyBelle to training. Maddie understands off leash, but Belle hasn't mastered it!

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  11. Mr. N also naturally checks in so I reward that. But I don't let him off-leash near busy roads either! Thanks for joining the hop!

  12. "Don't let your dog off in dangerous situations, even if you're certain they'll listen."

    This is the absolute best advice. I'm amazed how many people just don't get it.

  13. Great tips. Nola looks like she had a blast and the pictures you were able to get are awesome.


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