Now THAT Is A Motivated Recall

Yup, those furry flying figures would be the three Look What Labs, racing with fiendish fervor,(in honor of Hallo`ween) each figuring on being first to Mom. Now THAT would be a motivated recall! The first fiendishly flying figure would be Bridget, always getting the jump on the others. Attempting to make up ground, and casting the evil eye on the leader, is Doobie, my puppy mill rescue. Finally (this is always the order) would be English Lab Talley, stolidly chugging along. She gets A for effort and for never giving up. Her stocky little self just cannot cover ground like the two American Labs; Talley has much less stamina also. Do you routinely get that kind of action happening on a recall? As this was a distance recall; let me describe the setting.

Truly, I am blessed to live in a rural development, down the street from pond and river acreage, perfect for running and exploring off leash. This morning we hiked around the pond, and up into the adjacent woods, climbing down a gully, over a creek, up the other side and on into the woods. On the trip out, I love to station all three labs on a Wait cue as I venture down and back up, giving the recall cue as I gain the top of the incline. Of course anticipation builds amongst them, waiting....waiting....waiting and finally, blast off. Bridget tends to launch away with excited woofs and I have a blast observing the race. Talley is always last; this I attempt to assuage by ensuring she can fetch her own sticks from the pond, thrown well away from bossy Bridget.

Never do I take for granted excellent recalls; this skill is practiced religiously every trip out. And yes, finding ways to provide extra motivation is very worthwhile, in fact necessary to keep it all fresh. The distance recalls are advanced, so how do you get there? Work with your puppies to CONDITION CHECKING BACK BEHAVIOR.

  • While out on walks, mark/treat every time puppy looks at you. No cues, just wait for that behavior to happen. Soon enough, you will have a puppy frequently checking back. Practice first in environments that are not overly distracting. (and you can take from the daily ration of puppy kibbles as treats.)
  • Practice stopping and Hanging Out, with puppy on a loose leash, be one with the puppy. Same as above, mark/treat every glance towards you.
  • Of course a great Name Response is vital as well, so reinforce in ever increasingly distracting environments. 

Everyone really knows the basics of a recall, so my focus really is just to provide some tips that were on my mind as we hiked;I was thinking about the language in which I would couch the tips. How easy it is to say don`t! How long can you go without saying don`t?  As positive trainers, of course we attempt to speak positively, so here goes:

  • Be HAPPY to see that returning pup, every single time, no matter what the circumstances.
  • Blasting out the cue in a military type order will not yield better results. Happy and calm yields better results.
  • Run Away after giving the cue; pups love to chase.
  • Would you call a pup that is occupied with a scent in the back forty? Nope! That would be wasting a cue, and beyond the level of training for the pup. You will need to go out there and offer a distraction to gain attention.
  • Always have the pup on a leash or longer training line. This removes the option of not coming.
  • Out in the yard just hanging out: whenever pup voluntarily returns to you, no cue given, have a party, and reinforce generously. Of course tasty treats make the hugest impression, but play is also useful for dogs that are very play oriented, such as a game of tug. In short, make something wonderful happen.
  • Practice recalls into the house frequently, not just when pups are wanted to kennel, as you prepare to leave for work. We all know what the consequences of the latter can be.
  • Mix up the reinforcements. Sometimes when we are out hiking, as labs are returning, I will toss a handul of kibble out into the field, letting them use their noses, and have a grand time.

Above all, with adolescent dogs and beyond, continue to use a high rate of reinforcement for this all important behavior. When my labs are off leash, they are randomly given high value treats for checking in behavior; consequently they continue to check in and rarely venture out of sight. Bridget, the consummate escape artist, put me through my paces last winter, constantly finding new fun places to break free of confinement in her yard. I was always right behind her, running out to call, and I gave thanks every day that I did train high level recalls, as she without fail came galloping happily back, to a party!! Remember that tip about always being happy to see them? Sometimes it did come with some effort!! Can you ever have a recall that is perfect every time? Well, we have some work to do, but then, (don`t) we all?  Happy training! Be motivated.  Go forth and party with your pups and stay safe on Halloween. 

Until next time, Leslie and the Labbies