Recently, after teaching for three weeks on the road, I wrote this statement on my facebook status . . . “There is nothing more important that teaching your dog a reliable recall, nothing . . . it is the foundation of all brilliance and it reflects the relationship you have with your dog.”

I had over 100 people share their feelings on this statement, almost all where positive. However last night I was referred to a FB post where someone scorned my darning to attach the suggestion of an emotional investment into something that is science.

It is not the first time I have been criticized for suggesting that our dog’s recall or lack thereof reflect the relationship we have with that dog.

The line strikes a nerve in people who have a weak recall or perhaps those feeling the need to defend such people. People get upset, perhaps even cry, because they think I am saying “your dog hates you.”

This morning I looked the word “relationship” up in the dictionary.

1. The condition or fact of being related; connection or association.
2. Connection by blood or marriage; kinship.
3. A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other: has a close relationship with his siblings.
4. A romantic or sexual involvement.

So I am really being “unscientific” when I suggest that the recall reflects the relationship between dog and owner? Take the first definition and rephrase what I have been saying for the last twenty years; “Your recall reflects the connection or association your dog has with you.” Does that make it sting any less?

Perhaps you have a stunning, speedy recall in your house–that shows me your dog sees value in coming when called in a secure, distraction free environment where he is comfortable. I can’t tell you the number of high level obedience dogs I have seen that  have a brilliant fast & accurate recall on one cue in the obedience ring but will not come when they are called if they are chasing a squirrel, cat, another dog etc in a park.

The truth is I am hoping to kindle (okay without the crying, I don’t purposely want to make anyone cry) an emotional response from people when I challenge the relationship that exists between dog and owner. Recalls save dog’s lives. Candy coating the science behind how you create that recall rarely inspires people to do something about a problem because up until that point, they haven’t seen it as a problem! I have said it many times before “Irritation is motivation.” You must view your weak recall as a problem before you will ever be inspired to fix it.

I can happily walk around carrying 15 extra pounds on my body. I wish I could be more irritated by that, if I were, I would get rid of these last ten pounds and be at my goal weight.

The fact that your dog runs away to chase birds, visit people, checks out other people’s training bags or just get the zoomies in the agility ring is the cumulative result of your dog ignoring you in more subtle ways over his lifetime.

I look at it as God (or the universe whatever works for you) using the dog as a vehicle to let you know your dog training is weak in that particular area. Clearly the more subtle cues (of the dog leaving work to go get a drink, or take a swim or even the dog not coming the first time you ask in your backyard) you have been given, has not had  enough impact, on you or you would have been irritated to fix those things when you they first appeared. The weakening of cues such as contacts or a recall doesn’t happen over night, it gradually sneaks up on you if you let it.

It is human nature “manage” behaviour that is irritating to us so we don’t have to go to all that work to train. I am no different. We don’t have a doorbell in our new house because I was irritated by all the barking that went with the door bell ringing. I could have trained my dogs not to do it, but instead I managed the behaviour so I don’t have to see it again (now when someone hits the doorbell button at our front door the phone rings 3 short bursts).

More that a few months ago when Encore and Feature where running in the field I called Encore and she barely took notice. Does that mean our relationship is crap? Nope, it just means she sees more value in Feature than in me in that environment. It reflected my relationship with her when Feature was running. It needed to be repaired, so I fixed it.

I was spurred to write that comment on my Facebook page when I saw soooo many people who where so keen for instruction in handling their agility dog but where helpless if that dog decided to ignore them and to do their own thing.  The sad truth is if instead of offering a handling clinic I had offered a “recall clinic” few of those people would have shown up– not sexy enough to take a day off of work to learn how to teach a recall.

In my opinion a dog that sees value in their owner and has a great recall makes handling much easier and,  it if done correctly, has the added benefit of tightening turns.

Today I am grateful for a sleeping in my own bed for the first time this month.