Before we began the course we made two lists that were very important for our recall work: the first list was of our dog’s distractions where we rated these distractions on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most distracting to the dog. The second list was of our dog’s reinforcers. The reinforcers were ranked from those that the dog would take any time to those that they would not take any time or place. These lists were very helpful when training or shaping new behaviors and also when doing recalls in highly distracting environments.
Initially we did many recalls. At first they were restrained but very quickly I moved my recalls to using the crate. Crate games is another excellent tool for so many important foundation behaviors … in this case the SIT STAY. Using the work we had done in crate games Myst would stay quietly while I walked away for my recall game - I no longer needed a person to help restrain her.
Out of the 34 recall games one of my favorite is the 1 > 2 > 3 GAME. This game builds excitement for “GAMES ON” and also builds onto the foundation for SIT STAY. There are many ways to play this game, creating anticipation and excitement for the dog. Each morning when we have our fun game of tug and other games we always incorporate the 1 >2>3 game.
Another fun recall is the out of sight recall. Again, we play this game frequently since it is important to me to be able to take Myst hiking off leash and know that I do not have to worry about her chasing animals or not coming when called. We have been playing this game for 6 months and she always comes when her name is called … that is around our house and nearby trails. The test was still to come.
This past weekend I was in Flagstaff visiting a friend and Myst was able to run loose in her yard with her dogs. When it was time to leave I called Myst and she did not come and did not even look at me…. What had happened to my recall? Here was a test, a highly distracting environment where clearly I was no longer her “big cookie.”
A wonderful training opportunity had just presented itself.
The following day I challenged her to big distractions for recalls: coming to me to train when my other dogs were barking and taking her on the trail to test her recall. I found that using a long line to bring her in to me did not work in emphasizing that when she is called she comes. But I did find that going and picking her up and bringing her back to where I was when she was called did work. It only took 2 times of doing this along with using HIGH VALUE reinforcers that she GOT IT. I think that most dogs do no like being carried off of their fun.
The next day was truly going to be the big test. My fall hiking with dogs group was ready to resume our early morning hikes. All our dogs were off leash. Snake season is almost over so .. no more excuses… Time for the big test of off leash hiking on the trails and RECALLS… We did some on leash hiking this summer using a herding whistle to call the dogs back. Myst quickly learned what the whistle meant – come back to me for a JACKPOT TREAT.
On this hike I was sure to carry very special “never had before meat” for Myst for our trail recalls. The dogs were all out running and playing on the trail and it was time.. the recall whistle.. AND Myst along with all of the dogs came running back FAST.. We did these recalls a number of times with the same wonderful response. Then Myst, feeling very independent with her new freedom, wandered down a trail by herself in the wrong direction. She was some distance away and I called her name.. and YESSSS she came running back. We have had to work on the recall as being not just coming toward me but right to my side… and she made me very proud.
What have we accomplished and learned doing recaller games for 6 months? Well, the hiking off leash is perhaps currently most important. However we have learned so much about making the criteria for our interaction be all about having FUN and the criteria for our work is to always be JOY. We have learned that our training time needs to be short – no more than 5 minutes to keep the fun, energy and drive in our work. We end our training with the little girl always wanting more and wondering why we had to end.
Remaining Myst’s “biggest cookie” is not only fun for me but also for helping with those #10 distractions. She has a good beginning for solid start line SIT STAYS with no foot or leg movement. And she has learned so much about the importance of coming to and staying in the reinforcement zone. Building on this are her excellent retrieves of her dumb bell, metal objects and whatever I throw and ask her to return to me.
When I make my weekly training notes I always put on the top of the page reminders that I have learned from our recallers course:
· Criteria = JOY
· Do not reward crap
· Sometimes is always to a dog
· Continue to push the limits so there are errors…. This provides excellent new training opportunities
· Continue to put deposits into my RECALL account
· AND.. Keep finding new ways to become the “BIGGEST COOKIE in Myst’s life” …distractions loose their significance when a dog LOVES what they are doing.