When training, the dog recall is probably one of the first things people look to; in other words, the ‘come when I call’. This can be one of simplest behaviors to train, or it can easily turn into a problem.
My little guy is a mixed breed; Jack Russell/ Border Collie. Honestly, I can’t think of many breeds more stubborn than this one; Russells can be rather difficult to work with, and combined with certain Collie characteristics- that intense herding focus they are known for- we had our mishaps.
For this reason, I needed to be absolutely sure, beyond any doubt, he knew exactly what I wanted. Even more importantly, he had to actually obey me.
When little Loki (my dog) was a puppy, maybe only a couple months old, we went to work on his dog recall. Firstly, I chose a command word; a simple word, not often used in conversation; certainly not as often as ‘Come’. We went with ‘Here’ (dogs grasp only the meaning of our words given to them; choose any word you like, as long as you are consistent with its use).
A Different Breed Of Dog Training
This isn’t your normal ‘come’, and you mustn’t treat it as such. Use a different command word, different, highly desired rewards, and don’t carry on the training endlessly; your pet mustn’t grow board. Remember- I am giving you emergency techniques, not everyday training.
In a psychological sense, what you are doing is providing a driving force more desirable to the dog than any other possible circumstance. Think of it this way; all species have a biological hierarchy of drives- for humans and dogs it is self-preservation first, the drive to eat second, and reproduction/pleasure third (although we are perhaps the only species consciously aware of the fact).
Loki’s Recall Story
Anyway, we started out small, my dog and I. I would stand perhaps five feet away, say here, and offer a reward simultaneously. Like I have said before, consistency and repetition are key; we would go through our dog recall a few times a day, every day, always offering some form of reward. Eventually, he began to associate my command word- ‘Here’- with a treat. Therein lays my second principle- give your dog a reason to want to behave a certain way; as long as the end result is beneficial, he will perform accordingly.
For this to continue to work, you must NEVER, EVER MISS A REWARD.
As time passed, we would go over our dog recall less and less, ever increasing the distance (honestly, I say gradually, but it only really took him a short while to get this down). Different dogs will have different learning curves; some breeds take longer than others- it doesn’t mean they are ‘dumb’, but may have a different drive. The ideology remains the same. Even after he learned this small new behavior, I didn’t stop- we kept on going every so often, until I only had to use the command when I truly wanted him to come to me. However, I never stopped rewarding him, and we still go over commands occasionally.
Alternative Training Method
Remember the drive for self-preservation trumps any others.
I have very little respect for ‘shock collars’. There are few cases where I would ever recommend using them; most situations can be solved through thought rather than blunt, quick and easy tools. Not only are they potentially painful bordering on cruel if used incorrectly, that same use can harm pet-owner relationships, even lead to a fearful and aggressive animal (and certainly has).
If used correctly then can be quite painless, but I have heard of far more owners misusing the tool. Also, the story I am going to tell you in a bit has a lot to do with my disdain.
This is one situation where I would advise that use, pain/discomfort being far preferable to death by traffic fatality. There are two methods you can go about this.
Before you read:
Before I get into this, let me rephrase- this is an Emergency Method for those of you who have problems with your dog running out in roads. To prevent injury or death. Unfortunately, no matter ho much I say it, there are people who don’t pay attention.
“First half of the article was fine, until the author started talking about shocking your dog every time a paw touches the street. How are you going to get them to cross an intersection or even a driveway using this method?”
You create boundaries. If you care to read, this method is used by nearly every single invisible fence distributor (method differs from two listed below).
Emergency Recall Training Method One:
First, you can teach your pet to fear the road. I actually read about the same strategy used by a rescue handler in Arizona teaching one Pit-bull to fear poisonous snakes, a creature never seen before by the dog. If this handler hadn’t resorted to such means, the dog, with a natural curiosity, could easily have been bitten and possibly died.
Walk him/her along the side of the road, administering a slight ‘shock’ or buzz whenever they touch the pavement. It is crucial your dog relates the pain/discomfort to touching the road; be very sure not to let them catch on to the fact that you are administering it. This method is going to take care; dogs are a surprisingly intelligent species.
Emergency Recall Training Method Two:
If the dog fears receiving a ‘shock’ for ignoring a recall command, they aren’t going to just wait it out. Remember, the pain stimulus needs to be a higher driving factor than what is currently occupying them. If you resort to simply using a shock collar; if your pet is that poor with their recall, use it sparingly.
Treat this as a last resort. Think of your dog as your little 5 year old girl out there wearing a shock collar.
One Of My Great Regrets
I can remember owning a Chesapeake Bay Retriever growing up (we were really quite ignorant dog owners, but I was a grade school aged child- being adults, they had absolutely no excuse) named O’Malley. I loved my pet as much as any child loves their dog; he would sleep in my room every night, greet me when I arrived home from school, swim with me in the lake (great water dogs), etc. I loved my pet unconditionally from the day we picked him up, a 4 week old pup.
Sadly, he was terrible with his recall, my relatives would simply shock him if he didn’t obey That Very Second. Eventually either the dog grew to tolerate the discomfort, or the devise wore out- making any emergency recall impossible.
That particular dog began biting people; the eventual decision was made to terminate his four year old life when he finally bit my young nephew. One of my great regrets; knowing what I know now, the problem could have easily been cured, my beloved pet could have lived a long, happy life- if those who had the power to would have put even the slightest effort forth researching a solution before ignorantly labeling him ‘a bad dog’. A simple phone call might have provided them with the knowledge they so lacked, but such is the old school mentality.
Note- If you ever find yourself in this type of situation, don’t even bother with trainers who claim to know what they are doing; you dogs life may hang in the balance. Contact an accredited, college educated animal behaviorist. Make sure the person isn’t just claiming to know what they are doing so you will give them your business
What would I attribute his actions to now? A misunderstanding of his hierarchical role in our family. That misunderstanding almost certainly had to do with poor treatment. No one in my family was ever physically abusive; they just didn’t know how to handle certain situations.
Learned Behavior; Dog Recall
Owners often call their pet, and continue to repeat the recall when it doesn’t work. Of course there is no way to reinforce it (not unless you are telepathic). Nearly everyone has done it. This only reinforces the dog’s belief that he doesn’t really need to obey your dog recall at all; you will follow him until he is ready to come home. Eventually this becomes a learned behavior, and can be challenging to break. It would be key here to avoid this in the first place, so it doesn’t become a problem further down the line.
Let me note that I am not a fan of punishment. Is that dog going to want to come to the owner that is yelling and screaming at them, only to receive a smack for not ‘behaving’? Would you?