A Reliable Rocket Recall: Teach It, Train It, Practice It….and Practice Some More!

Willow Bounding to Me after the Recall Cue

At our most recent Play in the Pasture session, an off leash, outdoor social for clients and their dogs, my girl, Willow, joined in the fun.  In addition to the the socialization experience of helping her to continue to enjoy the company of a variety of other dogs, I also use the time to practice Recall.  Over the course of 45 minutes, I called her to me 6 or 8 times and each Recall was met with success:  Willow leaving the action and returning immediately, enthusiastically and with speed, to me.  Priceless.  One client asked, “How in the world do you do that?”  My simple answer was, “You train it.”

Two of the biggest mistakes people make with recall is 1) they don’t train it and 2) they only use it when the dog is outside (nirvana to the dog with all those sights and smells) and want the dog to come in.  Then the unknowing human goes about the daily chores or work ignoring the dog.  Think about it.  From the dog’s perspective, that’s punishment.  You’ve taken the “good thing….out of doors” away from the dog, brought the dog inside and ignored this beloved family member. Good way to make sure the dog doesn’t come to you again, eh?

A key component to training a good Recall is already having a strong relationship with your dog.  Laurie Williams, CPDT-KA has some excellent thoughts on this.  Perhaps Your Dog’s Just Not That Into You.

I’ve been training and practicing Recall with Willow since the very first day she came into my life, February 28th of this year and we’ve practiced each and every day.  That’s a little over 6 months.  In our classes, we tell people that an indoor, off leash recall is like a High School Diploma…pretty easy to get, but an off leash, outdoor recall is like a Ph.D.  And it could take as many years from high school to the Ph.D. to train and proof it.  Now, that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but it gets the point across.  It just doesn’t “happen.”   It’s not hard to teach and it’s not hard to train, but you DO have to do the work and, most importantly, you must always….always set the dog up for success so they can get it right!

Here are the steps I used to build a Reliable Recall:

1. Condition the word you plan to use as your cue.  My recall cue is “Come, Come, Come” said in a staccato, high pitched tone.  I paired the cue which a very high value food (Vienna Sausage…Willow’s favorite), so she would have a positive feeling when she heard the cue.  Here’s a video of my first two steps working with Chance, a client’s dog.

2. Reward ALL check-in’s.  Early on, each time I was outside with Willow, I would give her a tasty piece of food when she happened to come near me.  If your dog gets reinforced every time for willingly returning to you, you’ll get more of that behavior.  The dog thinks, “Wow, good stuff always happens when I’m near my human!”  I always use this technique when I’m in a new location with Willow and before I take her off leash (video here).

3. Train it:  I made training FUN!  After conditioning the cue word, I would say the cue, “Come, Come, Come!” and run away from her, making it a game of chase.  As she was running toward me, I’d Click (the marker signal for “you got it right!”), then reinforcer her with the yummiest of yummy food (grilled chicken, Vienna Sausage, dried beef liver…something she doesn’t get every day).  Train it indoors, train it out of doors, on a long line, until it’s really reliable, then train it off leash and ONLY train it with the level of distraction where you KNOW your dog will get it right.  If you find that Recall doesn’t work for you in a new setting. Go back to where your dog was last successful and train there a while before moving to the more distracting environment or location.  Set your dog up for success.

4.  Maintain it:  After the dog has a successful Recall in a variety of distracting environments, you’ll need to continue to periodically train it to keep the behavior strong.  Here’s a video of a morning maintenance training session with Willow.

5.  Practice and practice some more.  There are 4 stages of learning:  Acquisition, Generalization, Fluency and Maintenance.  The dog first has to acquire the skill, then generalize it to a variety of situations/locations before it becomes fluent and then you have to continue to train it periodically to maintain the behavior so that it’s always strong.

Here are our Rules of Recall:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!

2. Use the highest value reinforcer (over the top, yummy food) for this important exercise.

3.  Never call your dog to you to do something to the dog that the dog finds unpleasant (such as a bath or clipping nails).

4.  Don’t call your dog to you if you think your dog won’t come (i.e., if your dog is looking at a squirrel).

5.  If you make a mistake on #4, by all means “save” the recall by going and getting your dog (no scolding here) and bringing him back to you so that you can reinforce being with you.

6.  Never repeat the Cue word….say it once, then make yourself interesting by getting in touch with your inner Looney Toon character (high pitched voice, clapping, squatting, etc.).

7.  Always give the dog a HUGE payoff….lots of tiny pieces of yummy food and/or something novel when your dog comes to you.  If your dog loves to Tug, then use Tug.  If you dog loves to shake a squeaky toy, then use a toy.  Experiment to find out just what it is that your dog LOVES.

8.  Reward all “check-in’s” during other times of the day (a check in is any time the dog chooses to vist you on his/her own accord).

So get up, get out and start training.  And you can take advantage of our Rocket Recall DVD or private, in-home training to set both YOU and your Dog up for success so that you can enjoy more off leash time and freedom together.

Happy Training!

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Dog Walking Academy Instructor, a Pat Miller Level 1 Academy Instructor and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.   www.coldnosecollege.com







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