After a hectic weekend of surprise sunshine, broken washing machines & the ensuing panic this week’s (fortnight’s?) blog post is a little late.  It’s either proof I shouldn’t work to a schedule, or proof I need to be more organised!


“Instead of measuring a relationship with an animal by it’s “cheapness”, it should be measured instead by the amount of trust the animal holds”

People often say that training a dog using food and/or toys as reinforcers can and does “cheapen” the bond of a human-animal team.  What these people don’t realise is that there isn’t a team without some form of reinforcement for each potential member of that team.

Perhaps this makes more sense to me because I have ‘special’ dogs, who need someone in their life they can trust after a hard start; perhaps it makes sense to me because I’m interested in training my dogs in the quickest, most efficient, and least stressful way; or perhaps most people don’t really stop to think about this sort of thing (if that’s you, I think you should!).

I think the thing many people fail to realise is that dogs don’t actually come with a built-in desire to please humans – and let’s face it, not many humans do either!  Dogs are only “in it” for themselves, so if you can’t make it worth their while to do what you want, they’ll happily find something better to do.

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Would this be your dog?

Of course, there are a few options to choose from, but it boils down to two points: you can force your dog in to complying with your request; or you can show your dog that it’s worth his while to listen to you and do as you ask.

Yes, we know that whichever way you choose, your dog will be more likely to do as you ask but why use methods which intimidate, oppress, and diminish both the spirit of one half of your team, and the bond which holds your team together?

Why not use methods to build up your canine teammate, and strengthen your bond with each other, turning “working” with you, into “playing” with you?

After all, the only one who can show you the value of your “work” is your dog – so why not help him to see that value…?



Why of course – how could I talk about anything else!  This is our training, and it’s easily becoming our lives.

I’ve started to realise that in everything we do, be it training, walking, playing, tugging, waiting, we must all be happy and joyful.  Yes, I know how bizarre that sounds – I knew that already!  But I think I’d become so focused on Inka and what he could and couldn’t do and how to manage him so we can do what’s needed, and some of what I’d like to do, I think I’d lost sight of what it’s really all about – fun!
Thanks to Starr and Recallers though, it’s starting to come back for me, and I hope I can bring it to Inka too.

We’re all starting to train in a more effective, and efficient way; I’m learning to actually record-keep for our training sessions, rather than just having a pretty training journal which is more ornament than use, and make ‘mental notes’, which I promptly forget; and I no longer bumble through training sessions, jolting from one exercise to another.  I have a plan (the critical core) and I stick to it!

For someone with OCD in being organised, I sure wasn’t applying it to my dog training!

Recallers proper only started yesterday, but between settling into the community, the pre-course and critical core games, and being excited to begin “real training”, the two weeks since I signed up have flown by.

Here’s a few clips I put together from a video I took this the weekend of Inka & I playing one of the games.  Inka already had a sort-of recall (we’ve not worked on it much lately) so we progressed this quickly from our garden, to the street in front of our house (on a long line), and I thought this would be a good third location for us, as this is somewhere Inka & I have worked before and he has a history of paying attention here.

You can see the speed he’s coming back to me with already, and as I’ve said on the Recallers forum, I’m starting to have the sort of problem I like having, see if you can spot it!

And yes, this is even before the course has really started!  So to the person who found my blog by Googling “do you get money worth susan garrett recallers” – my answer is: absolutely!

To Shape, or to Train?

I read a comment recently from a lady who “didn’t have time for positive reinforcement” because, she couldn’t “stand around in the park waiting for her dog to come back to her so she could reinforce his recall”.

I think this could be another (common) misconception about reward-based training.

Yes, shaping is a wonderful tool in the toolbox of a competent positive reinforcement trainer, but it’s not the only tool, and any trainer worth their salt will know when to shape a behaviour and when shaping is better left in favour of other tools.

I’m going to make the assumption that the commenter did actually realise they were referencing free-shaping, that is waiting for the subject to offer the desired behaviour – or a close approximation of it – before offering a reward. No luring or prompting involved, simply sit back and wait.

However, is this really the best way to teach your dog a reliable recall – take them to the park, take off their lead, and turn them loose? I think not!

When teaching a dog to recall on cue, there are a number of important points to remember: –
1) always keep your dog on a lead or long line.  This ensures the safety of your dog, as he can only move as far away as the lead or line allows.  A dog on a line can, if needs be, gently “reeled in”, and of course just because you have a 50ft line, it doesn’t mean you have to give your dog the full fifty feet, if twenty would be more appropriate, just carry the rest.  It should be noted that everything your dog can do off-lead can be done on a long line too, Inka stayed on a line until I was quite sure he’d come back when called, but we still played fetch and tug, and ran around.  It just required some hand/eye/foot coordination from me (which is easier said than done!)  Additionally, it should go without saying that a long line should never be attached to your dog’s collar (always use a harness), and that you have to hold the end that is not attached to your dog (it’s not a magic recall device!!)
2) If you take your dog somewhere she needs to be on the long line, don’t use her recall cue.  You may have a particularly friendly dog who enjoys trips to busy parks or fields, but if you’re keeping your dog safe by having her on the long line, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you call her, she’ll ignore your request and continue to interact with the environment.  That is, of course, unless you’ve worked up to the level of distraction that the park is currently providing and you’ve taken her there specifically to train recall, rather than to walk or play.
3) you need to actually train a recall.  Your dog needs to be taught how to recall, as well as on what signal, and in what situations to come back to you.  That means you need to have one specific cue for recall (a word, a whistle sound, a hand/body signal for deaf dogs, or a scent signal for blind dogs).  You need to teach your dog the value of this signal in a quiet environment and in a controlled fashion, and you need to gradually work from a quiet, controlled environment (such as your kitchen) up to a chaotic, uncontrolled environment (such as the park).
4) You need to be certain of what you want your dogs recall behaviour to be.  Do you want your dog to recall and sit in front?  Recall to heel?  Recall and present his neck/back so you can re-attach his lead?  Or recall and play “keep just out of catching distance”?  Decide, and then stick to it.  Once you’ve got one trained you can – of course – train another type of recall, but only train one type at a time to avoid confusion!

Below is a video of me teaching Starr the beginnings of off-leash recall in our enclosed back garden.  We’ve already done some recall in the house (in the kitchen, utility, front room, and upstairs), and we’ve done a little bit at the training centre too.

I should note that this is how I’ve been taught to teach recall, and so far it’s done me really well.  Anyone who knows me will be aware I’m hoping to sign up to Susan Garrett’s Recallers course when it opens (very soon!); not because I think there’s anything wrong with how I teach recall (or indeed have been taught to teach it), but because of the way Susan sees recall as a barometer of the relationship you and your dog have.

Even before I’d heard of Susan Garrett and Say Yes! I felt the same way about recall.  Your dog has to want to be with you before he or she will recall to you, and I think Susan’s way of teaching will help me learn to build a strong relationship with both of my dogs, who – because of their individual histories – sometimes need reminding that people (yes, even mom) are good.