Yesterday I talked a bit about what things may be happening to cause a breakdown in your recall. It really is often just a case of humans not thinking about the recall from the dog’s perspective. So what can you do as alternatives to the mistakes you may have been making to address broken part of your recall?
Not all of the mistakes have “fixes” so to speak. Sometimes it is a matter of being selective when you choose to use a formal recall and when you choose an informal way to bring your dog back. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being aware of the mistakes and not falling into their traps.
Punishment–Your dog blows off your recall to go gallivanting around the neighborhood. No matter how angry, frustrated, scared, or upset you are, when your dog comes back to you, do your best to reward your dog with food, play, happy pets, and praise…then go count to ten, punch a pillow or otherwise release your frustration. I rarely have reason to get frustrated anymore, but I would bring a tug toy and reward for coming back with a game of tug–that way I could get out some of MY frustration while rewarding the dog.
Ending the fun–Of course you will inevitably have to recall your dog and end their fun, it happens. You just don’t want the recall to always predict the fun ending. Although you do not want to overuse your recall, you should practice it enough times where you release the dog back to what they were doing. Sometimes the fun may end but sometimes it doesn’t–but regardless, each time you heavily reward and throw a party.
Bath time–This one is actually so common. I had a student who had trouble calling her dogs in from the outside. She said the problem just started happening in the winter months. Turns out she would wipe their feet before they came in and that was very unpleasant for them so they stopped listening. The solution, use a different cue. For them, I suggested they classically condition a different feeling about the feet wiping and start train a different cue that means “come to the deck for feet wiping.” So, either train a different cue (“leash-up,” “deck,” “load’m up,” etc) that puts the less than awesome thing on cue or use another word/sound to recall the dog.
Overuse–Many people use their recall word way too often. While walking, the dog lags behind to sniff something, the handler says “come,” the dog is avoiding an oncoming hand and the handler says “come,” the dog is reluctant to cross a threshold and the handler says “come,” etc. The cue begins to lose meaning because most of the time when the cue is used so randomly, it is not reinforced the way it should be. I know I’m guilty of occasionally saying “Com’on” to them periodically. In writing these posts, I’ve actually considered retraining a recall from scratch using a random word I know I wouldn’t use in daily life OR training a whistle recall.
Low reinforcement–Essentially you need to become a walking bait bag. You really cannot reward too much for a recall. When I teach classes I actually time them and require them to throw a party for 30 seconds after each recall… you never realize how long 30 seconds feels until you are trying to reward for that long! When we do recall practices I tell them to “throw down” and use the absolute most highest value reward for their dog. Shayne loves hot dogs but I honestly think she’d sell her soul for Reddi-whip whipped cream or Wellness Core Salmon & Whitefish canned food (in a food tube–this is her doggie crack, I cannot use it for normal training because she looses her mind so it’s perfect for recall training).
Chase me!!–Turn the tides on them and instead of chasing the dog, encourage him/her to chase you! Take a few steps forward then turn and run like the wind the other way, zigging and zagging (though trying to keep an eye on the dog).
Ill-timed reinforcement–This one is really about prevention and picking and choosing when you use your recall word. If you have some doubt that your dog will recall in an environment rich with reinforcements (people with food, other dogs to play with, things to chase, etc) it’s better to not use your recall word and go and retrieve the dog or use another method (chase me often works) than use the recall word an your dog gets heavily rewarded from an external source.
Novelty of off-leash time–The easy answer is to remove the novelty of being off-leash. If the dog is not overwhelmed by the chance to be free (and easy opportunity to ignore cues) they are one step closer to listening to your cues. I like to work my dogs off leash in many environments so they learn that being off-leash doesn’t mean I will stop reinforcing desired behaviors.
Changing Cue/Criteria–Really, the fix for this is simply be consistent with your cue and criteria.
There are many things you can do differently to avoid falling into these traps and to help if you have already fallen into these traps. I’ve fallen into a few traps in my day and have had to do some remedial work and be very mindful about things. I had a tendency to overuse my recall word when I wasn’t actually recalling her so I tried my best to be mindful of the words I used. I also decided to half-train less formal recalls like “let’s go”–meaning catch back up because I’m moving on, “with me”–come to me but you can finish rolling in the coyote dung first, and a few whistles that either mean “check in with me” or “walk with me.” I don’t have many concerns about my pups not recalling anymore but if there was any doubt, I’d use something less formal but still reliable to preserve the integrity of the recall word if they happened to ignore me and be reinforced elsewhere.