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Come Back!!!

Has your dog hit adolescence and lost their recall? Perhaps they never really had a reliable recall and they've realised chasing rabbits is the best thing ever! Here are my top 8 hacks for building that bulletproof recall.

  1. Keep your dog on a lead

Management is the most important aspect of any training plan. The first step is to prevent your dog from rehearsing undesirable behaviour ie. ignoring your calls and chasing after wildlife or another dog. Invest in a 10-20m long line and keep your dog attached to it whilst you're walking on your recall. This means if you call your dog and they don't respond you can prevent them from running off which is important for shaping their learning history but also for their safety

Every time your dog does a behaviour, a neural pathway is created in the brain. The more your dog does this behaviour the more that pathway strengthens. If your dog's pathway for chasing squirrels and ignoring you is stronger than the pathway for responding to your recall cue then this will be their default action. By preventing your dog from ignoring you, you allow the neural pathway for responding to your recall to become stronger.

2. Find what motivates your dog

What motivates your dog? I mean, really motivates your dog to the point that nothing else matters. When you're building a recall you're competing against a squirrel so you need to build a drive for your dog to come back to you like you never have before!

I like using toys for recall mainly because often we recall our dogs off performing a part of the predatory sequence (staring, stalking, chasing or catching something) and using a toy is another way to meet these same needs. We may get our dogs to stalk us when we have the toy in our hand, chase the toy as we run backwards with it and catch it as we have a fab game of tug! This is so exciting, adrenaline fuelled and teaches your dog that you can be equally as fun!

Food can work just as well, we just have to be creative about what we use and how we deliver it. High value foods like cheese and chicken as well as some exciting movement; throw and catch, chase, slowly moving your hand down and then popping it into their mouth quickly etc.

The important thing is to have a play around and focus on what your individual dog enjoys.

3. Change your cue if it has been poisoned

Sometimes we run the risk of overusing our recall cue to the point that our dog starts to process it as white noise. If you feel this has happened, then I would recommend changing your recall cue to something else and rebuilding a successful neural pathway in response to this.

4. Only recall your dog if you'd put £100 on them coming back

We want the success rate of your recall to be 100%. To get this, we have to set your dogs up in environments in which they are most likely to succeed. One way you can do this is only recall your dog when you would put money on them coming back. This might be when they are already looking at you or when they are walking along without being particularly interested in anything. Once you have created a strong neural pathway doing this, you can start to test your recall when your dog is more distracted.

5. Don't punish your dog

Your dog runs off, completely ignores you and it takes an hour for you to catch them. I'm sure you all know someone or have experienced it yourself! We try the exciting approach, we try the angry approach, we try the laydown and play dead approach, we try the walking off approach but none of it works. Your dog is having too much fun elsewhere! We're often so full of anger and embarrassment but also relief when we finally do get our dog back then we stick them back on the lead and march home. We might even tell them off for causing us so much grief! However, the most valuable thing you can do when you get your dog back is to reward them heavier than you have ever done before! They made it back to you! They might have taken their time and it might have taken 100 calls but they came back and we have to reward that. If we were to punish them they may associate coming back with punishment and next time they are in a predicament trying to decide whether to recall back to you or chase after that dog, they will remember the negative feeling they got from you and choose the other dog. This also applies to recalling your dog to do something they might not like eg. bath time.

6. Practise putting your dog on the lead at lots of different points on a walk

Many owners have an issue with getting their dogs back on the lead at the end of the walk. They might not run off but they stand just out of arm’s reach and spend 10 minutes dancing around you in circles. This is often because they can predict when the end of the walk is coming and don't want the fun to finish! Try recalling your dog multiple times throughout the walk, popping them on the lead and then letting them go again.

7. Premack Principle

The Premack principle is a theory we often use in dog training whereby we ask our dog for a less desirable behaviour and in return reward them with a highly desirable behaviour. In recall, this would mean recalling your dog, praising them and then rewarding them by letting them run free again. This way they know recall isn't all about going back on the lead and the fun stopping, it's about coming back to be sent off to have more fun again!

8. Practise inside and outside the house

You don't have to wait until you're on a walk to work on recall. You can practise recalling your dog away from their favourite toy, their food bowl or their favourite person in a safe environment. Start with the item, far away so it is less of a distraction and slowly move it closer, making it harder for your dog to recall. You could even use Premack to release them back to the toy or food afterwards.


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