Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Come When Called
A lot of things are going on when you call your dog to you. Usually you are calling him away from something he would rather be doing, a good sniff, something he saw in the distance, or just playing with another dog. After you call him and he is running (hopefully in your direction), he may see or get the scent of something on his way to you, he may get distracted and take a detour towards the source of something he perceives as more interesting. The cue to come (also known as a recall) does not have to be a complex skill. Let's take it in small segments.
I teach the cue to come based on Leslie Nelsons's Really Reliable Recall http://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=DTB810P. I have expanded the concepts into a 5 to 6 week class, teaching many different scenarios so dog owners gain the confidence that their dogs will come when called. Leslie has sighthounds, Afghans and Whippets, along with Standard Poodles and Mr. Bill, a Brussels Griffon. All breeds can be taught how to come when called, some breeds may be a bit more challenging then others, patience and consistency is a must.
The first skill I teach is the dog to respond to his name. When the dog hears his name, he should immediately turn towards you and wait for further information. For coming when called, it is "Fido, come" Dog's name first, followed by the cue to come.
I used Melissa's daily rations to teach her to respond to her name. 'Melissa', she got a treat, 'Melissa' another treat. And again and again, in rapid succession, about 15 reps in 30 seconds. Melissa did not have to be doing anything in particular when she heard her name. I was just conditioning her that her name meant great things happen...a yummy treat from me.
We practiced before meals when she was most hungry. Maybe 15 reps in the morning, 15 reps in the evening.....30 reps a day at minimum. We did this for hundreds of repetitions, incorporating the use of the marker word 'yes' or the sound of a click when she heard her name. Not only did we practice in the kitchen, but in several rooms of the house. We practiced outside, we practiced in quiet areas before moving to distracting areas. We practiced on different surfaces.
When Melissa was eagerly keeping her eye on me, I increased the challenge. I moved to an area with a tiny bit more distraction. In the beginning it was just in our yard, someplace familiar to her, but more interesting then the inside of the house. Perhaps it was just looking at the grass, or a bird in the distance. I would say her name, and the instant she looked in my direction, not necessarily at my face, I clicked and treated. If she did not respond, I helped her out only once by putting the treat by her nose, turning her to face me and then treated her. I then went back to an area of less distraction, and rebuilt our foundation...a foundation that needs to be solid at those beginning steps.
Gradually I increased the distance she was from me when I said her name. If I added more distractions, I moved in closer. Eventually Melissa was running to me when she heard her name. This is when I added the cue to come, as she was running full speed towards me.
There have been times Melissa has not responded immediately, usually when I 'tested' things to see if she would respond in a highly distracting situation. No need to reprimand her, we just went back to the beginning steps to build a stronger foundation by decreasing the distance I was from her, and decreasing distractions. I wanted the cue to become totally conditioned, I did not want Melissa to think twice, I want it to be an instant response. A solid foundation is a must.
Some guidelines for a reliable recall:
*Consistency and patience, and lots of repetitions. Put the time into training this skill and you will have a dog who can hike with you off lead. Think of it as a safety exercise...would your dog turn instantly if heading for a highway? No matter where your dog is he should respond immediately.
Here puppy Tate runs through a corn field, but instantly comes when his owner Sue calls his name.
*Use high value treats that your dog gets at no other training session. Keep the recall training special, reward with the best. Melissa eats a raw diet...chicken hearts are perfect size for a dog her size, each heart is a perfect food to use at home. When on the road I used either Bravo and Oma's Pride freeze dried treats. Melissa especially likes the dried trachea. Jarred baby food, all meat, is another good reinforcer to use.....the dog can lick right out of the jar.
Another of Melissa's favorites is to lick the remainder from a yogurt container! These treats she does not have during usual training sessions, I keep them just for training the recall. Try to avoid treats that have fillers such as corn and sugar, use good quality food, you will be using lots of it! Remember to deduct the amount of food you use in training from your dog's daily rations.
*Say your dog's name once. Do not repeat, do not beg, do not coax. Go back to the beginning steps. This skill does not happen quickly. It could take months, be patient, it is well worth the time training. You are looking for an immediate response.
*Never reprimand your dog for coming to you. Even if you are late for work, for picking up the children, or going out for an appointment. Think of it from your dog's point of view. He came close to you and he got yelled at. Why would he want to come close again??
*Always 'fine dine', a term Leslie Nelson coined. When your dog does come to you, be generous, reward one treat after another for a full 30 seconds. You want your dog to remember that coming to you was wonderful and more then just a quick drive-thru meal. When teaching Melissa this skill I let her lick from a jar of baby food for a full 30 seconds. It might seem like a very long time, but in reality the dog will remember how great it is to come to you. When I hike with Melissa, and I call her to me, she gets at least 5 to 7 treats one at a time......if other dogs in our group join us, they also are included in the fine dining. Melissa thinks it is great to share with her hiking buddies....more food comes her way!
Leslie teaches an emergency cue, to be used for just that...emergencies. If you want to get a glimpse of what Leslie's Really Reliable Recall is all about you may opt to buy the booklet for 6.95 http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB813
*Find a secure area for your dog to run off lead while you are in the process of teaching the recall. Dogs who have the opportunity to run off lead are less apt to bolt when they accidentally get loose. Dogs need to run. A walk around the block is what Pat Miller CPDT-KA CDBC of Peaceable Paws calls an hor d'œuvre. It is a morsel of what a young dog needs in the way of exercise.
Take the time to train a reliable recall.
All these dogs have a good response to their name, no matter what they are doing.
In return they have the freedom to run off lead in many different venues.
Melissa is still in the learning stage, we continue to practice every day, several times a day.
Her response is about 95% reliable, I want it to be 100% each and every time.
Maintenance will for a lifetime. I never want the response of coming when call to diminish. I will continue to reward well!
A few clicks and treats several times a week to maintain her responding to the cue to come is a small amount of time invested when compared to the freedom she already has and will continue to enjoy. It is just a morsel of the amount of daily exercise a dog, especially a young dog, really needs.
*Always acknowledge check-ins while out on a hike or around your yard. When your dog looks at you, comes close to you, he is checking in. Don't take check-ins for granted. Melissa was treated for every check-in, for months! Now when she checks in, I alternate between a treat if I am in a highly distracting area, or her favorite back scratch if I am just around the yard in a less distracting situation.
Every time Melissa and I are together is a training opportunity, I take advantage of these times.....I never leave home without treats! Happy training.