Perfecting the Recall - The Middle
Today we present the final post in our series on recall training. If you missed the first 2 posts, we encourage you to go back and read them.
As we've talked about, the perfect recall can be broken down into 3 sections including a beginning, a middle and an end. For the beginning, the dog must be able to turn off of any distraction. We've detailed this in our first recall post: The Turn. A perfect recall ending means the dog is engaged with their owner and under control until released again. That way, you can take control of the dog and clip on a leash. We've talked about the recall ending in our second recall post: The Ending.
Today, we will talk about the middle. The perfect middle would have your dog run straight to you, ignoring all distractions on route. Can your dog run by other dogs, humans or squirrels? Will they ignore any temptations that cross their paths? Don't feel bad if you've answered no to any of these challenges. Most dogs can't until you've put in the work and proofed the recall.
The middle is all about proofing. You need to set up distractions that are far in excess of anything you'll encounter in the real world when it comes to the temptation level for your dog. As always, you want to start small and build on success. A good leave it command is very handy to have for your recall exercise. It's a normal thing for a dog to see a distraction on route and get sucked in by it. Dogs are not infallible, after all and regardless of how much proofing you've done or how well trained they are, they will make mistakes. What's important is that they understand how to get back on track when you remind them that it's not the right time to check things out. That's where a leave it cue comes into play.
Don't wait for distractions to crop up in the real world. Be creative and set them up so that you can train through them. Start with a short distance and something completely boring. I will usually just throw something like a leash or an empty box in the path of my recall. This is where a very high value reward is a must. What we are doing is building value for getting to you and that value has to be higher than what they're being asked to pass by. Eventually, we'll be asking our dogs to ignore really enticing, high value distractions, so now is NOT the time to skimp on their rewards. Keep them high value and variable. Knowing your dog is crucial. If you have a dog who loves toys and tug, using a variety of their favourites as well as food is a great way of keeping them guessing about their rewards. Remember the casino analogy. Mix up the rewards for each recall and keep your dog guessing. A variety of rewards will build behaviour.
Once your dog is fluent in their ability to pass boring distractions without trying to stop and check them out, you can start to make the distractions more tempting. Slowly build your dog's ability to ignore something more exciting and systematically make the distractions tougher as your dog builds understanding. Keep a record of how your dog is doing so that you can plan your training sessions accordingly.
You'll have to know your own dog in order to find a balance between the severity of the distraction and the distance they have to travel to reach you successfully. This is where a training journal really helps! If they begin to have trouble with either, be sure to adjust so that you can continue to build on success.
In the end, your dog's recall is really all about you. Have you put in the work? Have you practised all three components? Have you build their beginning, middle and ending? Have you proofed all of the parts? It may seem like a lot of work, but it will definitely be worth it for the overall enjoyment of your 4-legged family member!
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.