Anytime I do a foundation workshop I mention the tremendous importance I put on a good recall. Not only is it lifesaving, everything grows from it. Focus for work, focus for you, the ability to control your dog at a distance and even handling gets a head start with a great recall. A dog that responds to your cues with a knee-jerk quickness, even when in full stride, will make a better agility dog.
This weekend at the end of Skills Camp my instructors joined me and my dogs on our walk around the field. Everyone worked on something recall related. Jane worked on loose leash walking in the face of extreme excitement. Penny and Tracy worked on recalls while Lynda and I worked on control at a distance. All the while the dogs where just enjoying a walk around the field. All of this gets mixed together as you are always training. Regardless if you “feel like it” or not, you are training your dog to do something. Most behaviours erode during the other 23 hours of the day when you are not “formally” training. Dogs are always learning, you can’t turn that off.
Penny had trained a great recall when her dog Teagan was a puppy. However ignoring the reinforcement the dog earned from her environment allowed another response to be trained over the next couple of years. Lately Teagan has been checking out her options rather than coming right away. Her preference is to herd my dogs rather than to come to Penny each time she asks. You think this will effect her responding to body cues on an agility course? You betchya! You will also see how we test recalls with Tracy’s 6 month old puppy “Matrix.” As the song suggests “we got two lives, one we’re given the other one we make.” Nothing of value comes easy and everything we’ve got, we’ve got the hard way, by constantly being aware of what reinforces the dog throughout his life. Training never stops, the dog is always learning something weather you want him to or not! Once you have a great recall, you need to continue to grow it, as I demonstrate in the video. Rather than constantly calling my dogs back to me, I ask for other responses when they are at a distance.
For a great plan to improve your recall, check out the article on my website Deposits into Your Recall Account . The key is to not allow your dog off leash until you have the verbal control that is demonstrated here. If you can’t control the dog’s access to reinforcement, the only thing you have left to try is harsh punishment. As the old saying goes “violence begins where knowledge ends”. That just is not an option for me. My relationship with my dogs trumps everything and the truth is, not only will you not get the joy to follow up on cues that these dogs demonstrate, training with physical punishment will never give you the control that I have when the threat of your punishment is gone (such as when the dog is too far away or when the e-collar is not on).
Reinforcement is the only thing that can build behaviour. So until the time you have trained the squirrels and the cats to listen to you, your dog should not have access to chase them (as they give reinforcement to your dog as he chases them).You need to be able to control the distractions the same way in which we controlled the other dogs when the puppy was not listening. Tracy would not have had her 6 month old puppy off leash in a leash free park where inappropriate choices could have been made. The great great recall history Matrix does have will continue to grow as she learns there is no reinforcement to be earned when you don’t listen to da mama every time she asks you to do something. You don’t want to give your dog the freedom to learn he can ignore cues from you. Once your dog knows he must always respond to you, there is no distraction that will deter him from doing what you ask.
Please don’t say “oh my recall would be so great too if I had access to private walking areas like that.” There are excuses, and there are obstacles. I have not always lived here, and yet every dog I have ever owned has had the same brilliant self control just like my current dogs (yes even when I lived in an apartment). You may be tired of reading this, but a great recall starts with Crate Games, the beginning of all self control for my dogs.
I never tire of being grateful for the awesome place John and I call home. We are all so happy living here.