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Monday, January 6, 2014

Recalls - the most exciting kind of training!

Today is the first positive training bloghop. It's been a long day but I really want to participate because I love training my dogs using positive techniques. By positive training, I mean training that mainly involves rewarding good behavior and involves very little "punishment". Thus, I train a dog to come when called by giving them incredibly great rewards for sprinting to me at top speed. I've used other training techniques in the past, and none of them work as well as positive training, especially for off-leash work when I need my dog to have very high motivation to listen to me.

Every time my dogs and I go for a hike, I practice recalls with them. At the start of their off-leash time, I leave them in a "stay", and I walk far away to call them. The Labraduo is in a "sit-stay" in the photo below.
They both learned "stay" very soon after arriving at our home and can stay reliably.

R literally shakes with excitement before I call the dogs to me. I can see him shaking from a distance. So, when I call, he bolts toward me like a rocket.
At the start of a hike, I do a number of these structured recalls, getting the dogs mentally ready for more freedom. Sometimes, I have them stay a distance apart from each other before a recall, which seems to be harder for them. In fact, if Shyla is in a stay behind R, she sometimes tries to sneak closer to R while my back is turned. Fortunately, her bell alerts me to her sneaky move!
I motivate them for recalls by having a treat bonanza when they get to me. Both dogs get lots and lots of treats when they arrive, and I praise them excitedly. I think that you can see from these photos that both dogs are very motivated to get to me fast when I call them.
I find that practicing recalls is really fun! It feels as if the dogs and I are playing an exciting game rather than doing "onerous training".

After the opening series of structured recalls, I let the dogs run around together as I hike but I periodically throw in a recall, to help keep their focus on me.
Of course, my dogs are not perfect in real life situations but they're pretty good. R will recall away from wildlife with almost 100% reliability - I still smile with glee when I see him turn away from a deer to come to me. Shyla is not as good as R yet but she's doing very well for a young dog. If one of them ignores a recall, I repeat more structured recalls like we did at the start of off-leash time. Usually, that works to sharpen up their responses.

But, I do accept that there are situations that are simply too difficult for a dog to be off-leash and obedient. For example, if wildlife like coyotes, deer, bears, bobcats or elk are close enough that I can see them, I think it's prudent to rely on a leash rather than on the dogs' training! I also tend to leash the dogs when their body language tells me that they've caught scent of something extremely exciting. Around here, that "exciting scent" could be a mountain lion eating a dead deer, and I sure don't want my dogs barging in on that!

However, those situations are rare. Normally, I can count on a very enthusiastic response when I call the dogs, like Shyla leaping a small rock to get to me this morning!


  1. your dogs are marvelous - athletes and partners. :)

  2. I really enjoyed this post about recalls. I admit I haven't done that great of a job. You have spurred me on to keep on working it. Thank you. They are pretty good but I need to do better. M

  3. We practice recalls frequently as well. It was always Lucy who tried to cheat a little and Ellie who always nailed it. Interestingly enough, Lucy is better since Ellie is no longer with us. Perhaps she is a little more eager to be with us. When we are hiking on trails and they are off leash, they immediately recall themselves if they see or hear other people. They run to us and sit, waiting for us to attach the leashes.

  4. We were on the same wave length today!
    Nola's Mom

  5. What beautiful dogs (and photos). This is helpful for me as that's one of my resolutions - to work on Jack's recall. I rely on the leash and don't allow him too much freedom - which I'd like to do for him. As is typically the case, it's not the dog it's the trainer - laziness...Thanks for the tips. I KNOW this would work with my Labs too.

  6. R and Shyla really want to please you!!! Mommy wishes you were here to work with me. I have some things that need work!

  7. It's definitely working well for you! I'm currently looking for a currency for Flattery that she's willing to work hard for, but not for recalls, although I'm wondering if doing some of that might increase her enthusiasm. We'll have to play and see!

  8. Always positive reinforcement. Good job

  9. Thanks to you, I trained Otto early in the recall. He's really good these days. Treats, treats, treats!

  10. Awesome training! What do you use for treats? I also use positive reinforcement etc. In my 1st grade classroom. Kids really think it's all a game, but I get them to do what I want to. If I'm having fun, they're having fun and vice versa. And they're learning!!!

  11. I'm really glad you mentioned that there are some situations in which you prefer a leash. I, too, am familiar with the I-smell-something-interesting look living in Montana and always leash-up when I see it. :)

  12. You make two very important points...that it is a partnership and that recalls are a daily, lifelong exercise in order to keep skills sharp. With positive reinforcement, enthusiasm, and love, I believe that there are no bounds to the learning and sharing that can take place.

  13. Hi Laura,

    I use a combination of kibble and more tasty treats. I try to have the majority of my treats be a nutritious kibble because my dogs get a fair number of treats per hike. I add things like Zukes mini treats, lamb lung, freeze-dried liver to the kibble. If we have any leftovers around like cooked poultry or cheese, I'll use those as well.

    Thanks for the comment!

  14. Excellent recall training tips here. This is just the all important and most in need of life-long practice command that so many of us get lax about. Our boys are rarely unleashed but if safe off-leash opportunities ever present, we also practice several recalls before playtime begins. Thanks for joining the hop today. I hope you'll join us again next month!

  15. We have to laugh at your sneaking antics on getting closer to R when your mom's back is turned, Shyla. You know that our moms have eyes in the backs of their heads, right? It's hard to get away with anything!
    Your mom is a great teacher!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  16. I don't know if I will ever have the confidence in myself to have an off leash dog. We live in such a busy area and I confess that my few attempts with Dexter as a pup left my heart racing. The one time he took off into the woods and wouldn't come back was enough to convince me that I'd be using a leash (I did recover him as he was following another dog and when they stopped for snuffling I could catch up).

    Mango Momma

  17. This is a very timely post for me - thanks! Reliable recalls have been drifting into the realm of "the way it used to be" and I noticed yesterday that even in the house Piper is experimenting with reinterpreting "stay" as a suggestion. I clearly need to get on the ball with this before things deteriorate further, and in these bitterly cold days, it's a perfect time to practice indoors with lots of treats to make it more exciting. :)

  18. Wise precautions as well as the enthusiasm shown by R & Shyla.

    They are a joy to see.

  19. They are so awesome. You have done a wonderful job in training them.

  20. I need to become more focused on actually training my dogs, they are so naturally well behaved I always wonder why they are bad if they act up, but it's because I hardly "train" with them. Thanks for the motivation.

  21. I'm going to try the structured recalls when we go on long walks. I was absolutely delighted when recently Dina recalled away from deer- best feeling in the world that I trained her to do that and it's because of me she would rather come than chase.

    Dina Mom

  22. wonderful to read and so timely.

    yesterday i had my friends dog Lucy with me. She is over a year old and behaves well, but also has a slight stubborn streak and at times will not respond for 3-4 calls. I feel that tells that i am not serious, that the call means little, just like with children. we do positive training as well, but are making it up as we go along.
    I decided since i live in an area like you that it is essential for Lucy to come when called the first time and to walk close to me if i ask her to. So your ways have inspired me further. Perhaps more than one morsel for good behavior.
    your dogs are beautiful.

  23. Me and Stanley are 100% pawfect with our recalls when we are in training. In real life . . . not so much . . .

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  24. Absolutely stunning photos! I agree that it's best to rely on a leash than training if you can, better to be safe than sorry!

  25. Beautiful photos! I love the excitement in their eyes as they return to you. I love recall photos for that reason. :)
    I agree with you, there are some situations where it may be just too difficult for a dog to be off-leash and obident. I prefer to rely on a leash in those situations too.
    Thanks for sharing! :)

  26. I have to train a lot of recalls. VIlja is the who needs the most. When we are hunting she dont want to come...Trym is coming if he sees me....need to have better recalls to get more Points at the field trials

  27. Fabulous and beautiful pictures. They should be on the cover of Dog Fancy. Their coats are so shiny.

    Mom says thank you for the bday wishes.
    Hugs Madi your bfff

  28. I'm always amazed when I see how well-trained all your dogs are and have been. It really shows the love you put into them, and the love they have for you.


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