this is our puppy, Hotblack, how cute is he?! we’ve had him for just over 2 weeks and he has learned alot since he arrived. one skill we practice more than any other is his RECALL. i’ve really enjoyed recent blog posts by susan garrett et al on recalls, and it inspired me to do my darndest to put a stellar recall on this pup.
recall game #1: chase me, then we tug
while walking hotblack around outside for his potty or exercise outings, i carry a small fleece tug toy. i’ll ignore him for a few seconds and let him get interested in something, then i position myself 6-10 feet away, call his name, and as soon as he turns to me, i take off running. when he gets to me, the tug toy appears before him and we have ourselves a big game. this game lasts a good 30-45 seconds and goes something like this: he grabs the tug and we tug for a second or two, then i let go and praise him for his brilliance in winning the prize from me. then i run away again, he chases, carrying his tug toy, and when he reaches me, we tug some more. repeat til you are tired.
recall game numero dos: gimme dat colla
i am working to build a very strong and positive association with collar grabs. to me, few things are more frustrating than a dog who comes to you but won’t be “caught.” all my dogs LOVE having their collars grabbed because they recognize it as a precursor to AWESOME THINGS. many fun games at our house start out w/ mama holding your collar and the reward history for it is very strong. it’s pretty easy to do, you just do approximately 1 million repetitions of “grab your collar, give you a treat.” also effective, “grab your collar, throw your toy.” whenever i’m using food to reward hot’s recall, i sneak in plenty of collar grabs.
game # 3: come away from the fun stuff
really, the world is full of fun stuff for a 10 week old puppy to do. this morning hotblack discovered our neighbor’s dog, Julie (i know, funny, right?) on the other side of the chain link fence. julie is young (6 mos) and very playful and unfortunately her owners have decided even though they bought her as a companion for their young daughter, she should spend her entire days isolated in the backyard. don’t get me started. anyway, julie is lonely and today she convinced HB to play with her. they had a great time bowing at eachother and showing off some really nice soft, popping body movements. they also found the joys of running the fence line together and taking turns stumbling or running into stuff and looking silly.
so i say to myself, “you should probably go out there and work on some recalls at this point”. fence running, not necessarily a great habit for any dog, but i was reticent to break up their fun, mostly because i feel bad for julie in her lonely state.
i took a slice of cheese outside and called my puppy. he totally did NOT come. he looked at me and i clearly heard him say “just a minute, i’m having a really great time out here.” hmph. puppy recall, possibly not quite as stellar as i thought.
i positioned myself along the fence, about 20 feet from the puppy party’s location and i waited. as they made their way back down the fence towards me, hotblack was all “hey mama! whattya doing here?” i lavishly rewarded his attention to me, took a few steps away from the fence, rewarded him for coming with me, then i dismissed him and told him to go play. he hung around for a few extra seconds just to make sure no more cheese was forthcoming, then he went back to the fence and did a little more jumpy-crouchy-cute play. i called him and he whipped around to me. BIG cheese party for that, multiple rewards and lots of compliments. dismissed him and sent him back to play, and i moved a little further from the fence.
we ended up doing about 5 recalls away from his play session to me and increasing distances across the yard, then the slice of cheese was gone. i felt really good about this little nubbin of training, i think that hotblack started to learn an important lesson: coming when mom calls doesn’t mean the fun is over. i was using cheese to reward him, but my secondary reward, dismissal and sending him back to his playmate, was almost as valuable to him. this is application of the premack principle, but that’s a whole ‘nother super-geek dog training post.
lesson learned: you don’t have to be the most important thing in your dog’s world to effectively train recalls, you just gotta be smart about it.