Why is Recall So Important Anyway?

I know I’ve posted about recall before, but I love it! Whether I’m training, practising, or using that one special word; recalls are fantastic and they’re also one of my ‘markers’ as to whether I’m comfortable allowing an individual dog off lead in any given situation.

Even with my first dog, I knew that teaching a reliable recall was a very important thing, but it was only when I happened across Susan Garrett’s take on recall – as a way to evaluate your relationship with your dog – that it fell into place in my mind.

* If I’m going to allow my dog to have some off lead freedom, I must trust him 100% to come back to me when I ask
* That means that he must want to come back to me, even if I’m asking him to move away from something “really interesting” such as a rotting sheep carcass (yak!), or kids playing football
* If I want a reliable recall, then I need to define both ‘reliable’, and ‘recall’.
* I also must set specific criteria, and stick to them – what will my cue be, how many times will I say it, will I use a visual signal as well, what specific behaviour(s) will it elicit, and so on

So, first things first – define what I’m training, and set criteria:
Reliable: dependable, consistent, unfailing, steadfast, certain.
Recall: often used in terms of memory – remind, recollect, evoke; also used when quality control issues affect one or more of a company’s products – e.g. “there was a recall on yoghurts”. In dog training, recall is the set of behaviours the dog performs when you call him or her to you. Exactly how fast, how close, and so on are part of your criteria.

My criteria
My dog’s recall behaviour will involve:
* Responding as soon as I say his cue, on the first time I say it (that quick response may one day save his life)
* Turning and moving away from whatever he is engaged or interested in
* Locating me, usually visually – though if he’s out of sight I will encourage him without using his recall cue again (and then work on him keeping better track of me, and me of him)
* Running back to me as fast as he is able
* Returning right to me, and staying close to me – no staying out of grabbing distance, or coming back and immediately going somewhere else

What I would add to that list now: –
* Now that I use a release cue, I would also add that he stay with me while I leash him up and we walk on, or until he is verbally released.
* I would also list the dog’s distractions and reinforcers, and rate them so that when the time comes I can pair a distraction with a reinforcer of equal or higher value. This list would need updated as we worked our recall, so it will need to be kept safe!

“Wait a minute!” You say, “I have a husky – who should never be off lead anyway – and we generally walk in the city, where it’s not safe or legal for any dog to be off lead, I don’t need to teach her recall, do I?”

Well – no, and yes.  If you’re 100% certain that her lead, flat collar, and/or static harness will never, ever break; and you can be completely certain that you will never, ever, ever let go of the lead, no matter what’s going on around you, then maybe I can let you off.  For the rest of us that are fallible: even if you don’t intend to ever have your dog off lead, it’s a good idea to train a recall anyway, that way if something ever does go wrong, you have at least a chance of having your dog come back to you rather than disappearing over the horizon.

So now that we know our criteria (to come straight back to me the first time I call, and stick around), how do I go about training?  Technically, I guess recall could be shaped, but that would likely be a slow process!  Since recall is so important, I think it’s much better to train it.

Obviously since I signed up to Recallers, the way I teach recall is changing; but since I paid good money to be a ‘Recaller’, and I respect Susan and her propriety information I won’t/can’t share it with you in that way (though I’m sure there’ll be lots of videos of various bits and pieces in the future).

However, I can share this video of Starr and I again.  This is one way I teach recall – I have my dog “chase” a thrown piece of kibble, I mark when she turns around, and when she returns to me she gets three or four tasty treats.

As with all good training, we start off somewhere not distracting (in this case, we started indoors), and slowly work up to very distracting environments, using a lead or long line as appropriate (in our enclosed garden, she’s fine off lead).  I help her to make the right choices – by marking the turn; and I make the right choices achievable – I don’t take her to the beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon, take off her lead and expect her to stick around, much less come when I call her, without plenty of practice of what I do want first.

After all, practice makes perfect and if she practices ignoring me, or having me chase her for twenty minutes before I can get her back on the lead (after calling her repeatedly) then that will become her “recall” behaviour – and that is not what I want!

What about you – is recall important for your dog(s)? Do you have a special way of teaching it?

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3 thoughts on “Why is Recall So Important Anyway?

  1. Sam I love teaching recalls, too! A cool thing happened to me with my dog Clara. I accidentally taught her a recall while doing classical conditioning! I didn’t want her to pick up the barking habits of my reactive dog, so when she was a pup I gave her a treat every time Summer barked. I was very consistent. All I was going for was a positive emotional response, but of course, then she started seeking me out when Summer barked, to get her treat. Now Clara comes running to me from wherever she is when any dog barks, including if she is down in the yard and I am in the house. I still give a treat. I love this behavior.

    What a great video of Starr! How happy she is with the game!

    • Oh Clara! I love it when dogs learn something “unintended”, especially when it’s useful.

      Starr is happy with almost everything! You should see her when she “helps” my other half with his workout in the evenings

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