Wits End Dog Training: helping you to help your dog be the best it can be

Wits End Dog Training, helping you to help your dog be the best it can be.

Wits End Dog Training | Specifics

7. Calling the dog

My dog will come when called, leave a situation of high distraction from 30 feet away and return to my side close enough that I can have my hand safely on the collar.

The 'come' command – also known as the 'recall'

The curious thing about the come command is that most dogs will come very reliably from several rooms away when they hear the muffled sound of a chip falling on a rug or the jingle of the postman’s keys as he tiptoes past your house and yet many will not come when their owner asks them to come!

So let us be specific about what we mean by “come”.

The criterion for a perfect “Come!” is upon using a cue, or a signal of some sort, (voice/whistle/clap/hand signal/ body movement) that the dog will stop whatever it is doing and run towards you with passion and enthusiasm at 25 miles an hour sliding in to first base like your favourite baseball player to sit looking up into your eyes adoringly close enough for you to comfortably hold his collar.

Good, now praise him!

Using the behavioral analysis to simplify dog training this can be broken down in to three parts -

ABC - The Magic Formula of Dog Training

A is for Antecedent - Literally “that which comes before the behavior”.

A sound/signal or cue for the behavior. In the example above it might be the sound of a chip falling on the rug, keys tinkling, a whistle, or the word “come”.

B is for Behavior – Dog stops in mid air and turns around, lands, comes running.

C is for Consequence - Reward the correct performance enthusiastically.

One problem people have with the come command is that they use it “in anger” before they have taught it to the dog!

"Just because you know what 'come' means
does not mean that the dog knows."

In order to be successful the antecedent has to be consistent, the same cue every time. It can not be “come” one moment, “come here” the next, and “come come come come come ” or “this way” the next.

Another problem people have is attaching the antecedent to the behavior. From the dog’s perspective just suppose you shout “come” when your dog is running at 25 miles an hour away from you, chasing a squirrel. If you do this several times in succession, don’t be surprised if the next time you shout “come” he looks around, starts running away from you while looking for the squirrel he must have missed! (We see behavior like this at the dog park a lot!)

"To ensure success
make sure you are labeling the correct behavior."

Think of labeling as an opportunity to teach your dog a single English word by saying the word when the dog is performing the precise behavior. Imagine a photographic image of the behavior and a label underneath. Repeat until the dog seems to associate the label with the behavior. You can test by saying the label slightly in advance of the behavior and seeing if the behavior follows. Don’t move too fast, most owners think their dogs get it much sooner than they actually do. English is a difficult language to teach a different species that does not have verbal language skills. (this is why hand signals are so successful, dog’s are expert readers of body language!) I cannot say this too many times, if the behavior does not follow do not keep the label advanced of the behavior hoping he will catch on! You will be labeling the opposite of that which you want and really confusing the dog! Test once, if it works congratulations. If it does not, go back one step and do more repetitions.

You MUST tie the antecedent to the behavior in the dog’s mind, not just yours, BEFORE you start including consequences.

A before B before C

So how do we train a solid recall?

1. Start from scratch.
Pretend that your dog knows nothing.

2. Choose a word.
For example “Come” or “Here”. Bear in mind that the word has no meaning to the dog. So you could use “Cat!” as the recall command and have some fun at the dog park.

3. Choose a hand signal.
Start by overacting the hand signal, you can make it more subtle later as your dog comes to read you. You could for example “pat the top of your head”.

“Point dramatically at the ground right by you” or “bring your left arm across your body to touch your right shoulder”.

4. Choose a body position.
For example turn dramatically from facing your dog to standing at right angles to your dog and crouching down like a dog in a sit position.

When you turn at right angles you are inviting your dog (in dog language!) so this works really well.

5. Choose a vibrant behavior.
Clapping works really well, the faster your dog runs to you the faster you clap and the dog runs faster!

"These are known as Visual, Auditory and Kinetic cues.

Tie all these together in your mind and body and your total behavior becomes the Antecedent or Cue for the dog’s behavior.
The next thing to do is catch your dog performing a “recall”. This is easiest to accomplish in a very low distraction environment, at a low distance, and for a short period of time.

Here is a chart to help you evaluate the environment.

Situational Evaluation Form

Plot the current training session on the following form:

So maybe your back yard, an empty school yard or soccer field.

"If your dog has no to poor recall, you can enhance safety by having your dog on a 20 foot training leash."

Starting at six feet away, use his name first, to get his attention. Then coax him towards you gently, using the leash if necessary. Make sure you have thirty successful repetitions with no leash tugs, (do not use an extending leash for this, although at first glance it looks like a good idea, because you do not want to teach your dog to have a recoil spring on the leash as one of the cues) before you extend the distance to ten feet, then fifteen, then twenty feet.

Now do sufficient homework (number of repetitions adding your cocktail of cues) to ensure that at 20 feet when he is running towards you he is overwhelmed with your enthusiasm and you are with his!

"Try lying on your back and waving your hands and legs in the air like a stranded bug if you get bored."

Your dog will probably be quite curious and come running!

Now add Consequences. Your energy and excitement in his successful performance can be a rewarding consequence of good performance, in fact one of the challenges people have is maintaining their own energetic performance and not feeling slightly foolish! I see their dog starting towards them and the owners go quiet and wait, the dog gets bored half way loses interest and gets distracted by a bird or a chip packet on the ground! Be the energy you seek!!!

Food, hot dogs, warm freshly barbecued chicken can also enhance the results. They are NOT substitutes for your engagement in the process! These are not bribes! They are only to be given when your dog has successfully completed the recall including a calm sit by your side. Remember at this stage you have not asked for, or commanded, the performance. You are only labeling the snapshot of perfect performance. So he can’t be wrong. If he is not doing it, nothing happens.

"Be patient. Be engaged in the training process!"

Now you have to take this performance and extend it to 50 feet, using a fifty foot training leash.

Now shorten the distance back to 6 feet and start adding distractions. Try the soccer field full of children running and screaming with whistles blowing. A little league field on a Saturday practice. The local dog park. The beach. Gradually add more distractions, building on success.

"If you find one distraction is particularly challenging
try increasing the distance from the distraction
to lower the intensity."

You can work your dog outside the dog park, 100, 200 or 300 yards away for example, then gradually build on success. Getting closer. You will find that each of these situations can have a different level of distractions at different times of the day and different days of the week.

Using this technique you are helping the dog to generalize the performance across different environments, something that dogs do not do easily. Without your efforts your dog may simply gain high performance in a specific location and then fall apart in a new location.

When you have built a foundation of recall performance at 6 feet from you in highly distracting environments you can start to increase the distance from you again, gradually building successful performance on successful performance.

"Baby steps are the fastest way to get to the ultimate goal."

Set him up for success based on your knowledge and experience gained through the training process. Learning is not a straight line graph, in fact there are cycles of gain and windows of regression in the experience. Do not get discouraged, remember what the track looks like and get back on track. Persistence pays dividends!

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