Teaching your dog to come when called
Because they find not coming back more rewarding than being with their owners. If our dogs loved being with us that much they would not need to be taught a recall as they would always want to be in our company.
Often there is a lack of understanding about the learning theory of dogs. We often accidentally reward the dog for not coming back when called and then we punish the dog when they do come back. Let me explain... When a dog is rewarded for a particular behaviour it makes him more likely to perform that behaviour again. When a dog is punished for a particular behaviour it makes him less likely to perform that behaviour again. For a more detailed explanation please see the attached sheet on operant learning (this is the way in which all animals learn, dolphins to gorillas and of course dogs.)
Here is a list of some things that could be rewarding for a dog, try listing what your dog enjoys. These are classified as rewards or reinforcers.
Food, discarded wrappers, bins, chasing joggers, toys, sticks, smelling a gate post or when another dog has urinated, watching – barking at or chasing cyclists, social interactions with people or dogs, sniffing poo, rolling in poo, rolling on dead animals, eating poo or dead animals, chasing rabbits or deer, watching children playing, joining children playing, chasing children playing, playing with you, watching people play football or ball games, playing ball games, playing with other dogs, sniffing another dogs bottom, chasing seagulls, shredding an empty box, stealing items of clothing or items belonging to others, soft toys, pigs ears, stuffed kongs, treat balls, tennis balls, squeaky toys, chasing leaves, barking at squirrels, running really really fast, etc
Here is a list of some things that a dog may perceive to be a punishment. In dog training a punishment is anything a dog doesn’t like.
Verbal corrections, physical corrections, anything that startles or scares the dog, removing them from something they value (any reward), taking anything they value away.
As you can see from the extensive list of rewards above, it is very easy for your dog to be rewarded away from you. It is very easy for your dog to be rewarded for NOT coming to you . Many “rewards” are easy for your dog to obtain without you. They can obtain the reward with little or no work and many of these rewards are also (in your dogs eyes) very high in value. With this in mind it is easy to understand why your dog would prefer to be off the lead and won’t be coming back until the rewards are extinguished or your dog is too tired to enjoy them.
How we accidentally punish our dogs for coming back.
Using punishments in dog training is ineffective and detrimental because dogs learn by association. When we punish a dog we also need to be mindful of what we are punishing. For Example:
· We shout at the dog for not coming back when he is playing with some children – is the dog being punished for? Not coming back or for playing with children? The dog will think twice about playing with children if this is repeated regularly (or even just the once if you have a sensitive dog!)? He may even decide children are bad and start to bark when he sees them.
· We roughly grab the dog’s collar and curse him when we finally catch him after an hour of trying to get him to come back, what is the dog being punished for? Allowing himself to be caught or for being naughty and not coming back? Next time will he try harder not to be caught because he got punished at the same time the hand touched his collar?
· We call the dog every time dogs appear because he loves playing with other dogs and won’t come back. We are amazed when he actually comes to us so we put him on a lead so he cannot run off to see the other dogs which have appeared. Is he being punished for coming back? Next time when the dog is deciding between other dogs and his owner which will he pick? If he goes back to his owner he loses the reward of playing with other dogs.
Punishing the dog is ineffective and can create much bigger behavioural problems. Preventing the dog being rewarded by external reinforcers is far more successful. This makes the process of teaching a conditioned recall command much easier. When we teach the recall we need the dog to be successful and thus receive rewards from the owner for the correct behaviour. So preventing bad behaviour – by either not calling the dog or by having a long line or extender lead improves the chance of success.
Other barriers to recall training
Practise - Not putting in enough good regular practise
Bad Puppy Training - Not training and showing the puppy how wonderful you are when they believed you actually might be that great. Teaching your puppy to stick with you and how great you are should have been done with thousands of repetitions from 8 weeks old. If you have waited till your dog is not responding it will be hard work.
Too many failed attempts - Calling the dog all the time and the dog not coming (this teaches the dog that “here boy” actually means evade capture and run off! The ratio of success to fail must be almost 90% to 100% in favour of success. This is because the rewards for ignoring the recall and not coming back are so high.
Come = bad stuff - We pair calling the dog with other ‘bad’ activities grooming, nail clip, putting out in the rain, frontline, car journey, to be put in the kitchen because you are going out, to be put in a crate, things your dog doesn’t love or like.
Being predictable - Allowing your dog to predict the reward you are going to give them so they can choose you’re “treat/reward” or the other external reward (other dogs, rabbits, poo etc)
Changing the words - We keep changing our recall command or we don’t actually have one. Using the dogs name is difficult because it is used in many other contexts, using a word is hard to keep emotion out of it and keep everyone saying the word in the same way. Whistles are great or short commands/noise. Make sure you are also keeping your whistle command the same too.
Repetitions - Conditioning can triumph over distractions even when the rewards are not as good, good examples are that everyone looks at the clock when we wake or flushes the loo when they have finished, those are conditioned responses. Teaching a conditioned recall is possible for most dogs.
Good Rewards - High quality rewards are so important and they should be kept high quality by limiting them to training, if you give your dog high value treats at home why would he want them when he is out – he can get those at home where there are no other dogs or squirrels. Varying the rewards a lot and always having a good mixture of different types of reward is also important. Examples of different food rewards: chicken, liver, carrot, kibble, shop brought treats, liver cake, tuna cake, chopped meat balls, frankfurter/ hotdog sausage, etc. All rewards should be free from colours, additives, sugar and preservatives. Once we have taught the new behaviour (recall) we will mainly use the dogs dinner but varied and high quality treats help to teach and ingrain a behaviour.
This is an excellent article on the use of food in training dogs. I would urge anyone reading this who has questions or misgivings about using food in training to read this article:
Other Types of Good rewards - If your dog loves a tennis ball there is nothing stopping you using a tennis ball. If your dog loves squeaky toys use them. But remember to keep them special by limiting access to them to times when you want the dog to respond. Also try to keep it varied, different types of the same toy or reward type and different amounts of intensity of play or fuss, different amounts of time allowed with the rewarding object or person etc.
Rewards delivered correctly - Rewards should also be given using a system a bit like “performance related pay”, this means never giving the dog a regular pattern of treats or types. We then reward the dogs best behaviours with the better rewards, but never allowing the dog to predict what really great reward they are going to get.
An example of a variable rewards:
“Sit” – one high quality reward - “go play”
“Sit” – three low quality rewards – “go play”
“Sit” – two medium quality rewards - “go play”
“Sit” – praise only – “go play”
“Sit” – Really enjoyable game of tug -“go play”
“Sit” –one medium quality reward -“go play”
“Sit” –praise only -“go play”
“Sit” - one very high quality or novel reward -“go play”
“Sit” –praise only -“go play”
“Sit” - throw of the tennis ball -“go play”
“Sit” – (The Dog did it immediately over 10 meters away) – Jackpot of many different rewards-“go play”
“Sit” –Praise only -“go play”
If we do not tell the dog when they are getting it right, how will they know what they are receiving the reward for? Not telling the dog when they are getting it right plays a massive part in preventing a dog succeeding, if they don’t know what behaviours will get them a reward from you, then they will go and seek reward from other avenues.
By using a marking word or sound whenever the dog does part of or a whole behaviour you would like you must be able to tell the dog that was what you wanted. If you are consistent with the way in which you do this by always saying a specific word, type of praise or making a specific noise just before you reward the dog they will start to associate the behaviour they were doing at the precise time they heard the word or sound with the reward and try to repeat that behaviour to earn another reward.
Good Examples of Markers: A clicker sound, a word like “yes”, “good”, “great”. Words like “good boy” can be a bit long and people tend to often use them and not always reward. You must always reward even if it is only using extra praise after the marker. Food, toys and life rewards are better though. Life rewards include many of the things stated at the start of these notes (page one).
This of course only works if the reward you are offering after your marker is actually rewarding to the dog and if the dog doesn’t find your “prize” rewarding then it isn’t actually a reward to your dog at all.
For instance: The dog who is a very fussy eater and is not food orientated but loves to chase things, is unlikely to find a treat rewarding, especially if it is low quality and not interesting and novel. For that do the opportunity to chase a ball or even the owner is more likely to effectively reward the dog. Thus the dog will be more motivated in the future. However remember we can train the dog to enjoy food treats more, just as we can teach a food motivated dog to enjoy toys more.
“5 minutes of play a day” – if life with your dog can be a bit of a battle changing your outlook on the relationship you have with your dog will make a huge difference. Put aside five minutes every day to simply play with your dog. Try to start doing this on your walks if you can. Get your dog loving to play with you at home (do it EVERY DAY) then try to spread your five minutes over a whole walk – five sets of one minute play. The more your dog enjoys playing with you the more rewarding you are to your dog. If you want to do more do more short sessions but do not extend past five minutes at a time. The play must be very exciting and make your dog thrilled at the prospect and very energised!
Make sure you play different and interesting games. You want the dog to be excited and bouncy about the prospect of spending time with you playing. This is different to obsessively playing ball, (which is great, but don’t do it all the time or you become predictable) the games should be focused on your interaction with your dog.
This is a great video about teaching Tug:
Here are a few videos on Go Wild and Freeze or variations on this fun game to play with your dogs:
Video for teaching fetch (but be careful about playing with sticks as the trainer does in this video, they can be very dangerous to dogs if they run on to them. Use toys or rags or even a stuffed Kong on a long string rather than sticks) I still use this video as with the exception of the stick i think it is great.
Other recall games:
I love this video so much as the dogs and the humans are having wonderful fun. There is no end to the fun you can have with recall - just try and think up great ways to interact with your dog on a walk. You must remain more interesting than the environment.
Remember if any of these are off lead and you do not have a recall with your dog you will be practising on lead/ with a long line attached or in your garden.
Gotcha – Collar Grabs
Teaching your dog that they like you catching them and taking them by the collar is so important. This is normally the gesture (reaching for the collar) that makes the dog start evading you. In Short: reward your dog as you take them by the collar. This video starts with small dog tips and moves on to large dogs.
Find it game
The find the treat game reinforces returning to you and makes it easy to teach your recall command. It is very easy to get in lots of repetitions. In Short: call your dog and when they come close enough to touch you or allow you to collar grab – throw the treat away to the side and get them to chase and hunt for it using the command “find it”.
A similar game is the find it through your legs game:
Ping Pong Dinner game
The Ping Pong Dinner game gets your dog to run between humans receiving lots of yummy kibble. A great way to use the dogs dinner to reinforce how great it is for the dog just being around you, how great the recall command is and how great approaching people is when they are calling is. One person calls at a time – only that person rewards the dog, the rest are silent. When the dog has had their rewards from that person the next calls, and so on and so forth.
Running away from your dog when they wander from you and playing the opposites game where catching up with you is really rewarding and wandering off makes you run away. Great use of a dogs chase drive and desire to be part of a group.
Restrain and run
Building up anticipation in the dog, he or she is held back whilst the owner runs off being suitably exciting. Then the owner/handler calls, the dogs are released and then rewarded for catching them up.
Run and Hide
The same as the above video but done where there are visual barriers. This increases the dogs desire to see where their owner has gone. This can also be done by distracting the dog with a treat or thrown reward and then running off to hide when the dog is not watching, or by someone holding them back.
Other times you can achieve other practise opportunities: Circumstantial recalls – for dinner, for lead, for when you come in, when you come in from another room or when you come down stairs in the morning.
A NOTE ON SITTING –Don’t ask for a sit if your dog tends to hesitate or be selective about this command. We want to reward the recall not the sit. If you get a ‘sit-struggle’ the dog has an unpleasant association with coming when called. A ‘sit struggle’ is where the dog doesn’t sit so you have to insist on it (because follow through and consistency is everything in dog training) and the moment of the recall is lost and the memory of “sit, Sit, Sit , SIT!!......Oh good dog...finally” is what is left with you and perhaps with your dog.
Later on, when your dog is loving coming to you, we can add the sit in.
By now we will be practising places where there are mild distractions, at this point we will add a management tool like a long line, house line or extender lead. Remember if using an extender lead the dog will feel like it is on a lead much more than if it were on a long line or house line as there is a constant pull on the dog’s collar.
Once your dog is achieving its recalls more than 90% of the time with the mild distractions you could attempt to practise with all levels of distraction. Proof your dogs recall around every available distraction until you are super confident of your dogs response before you start to get rid of the lead.
How to use the long line effectively and safely – this will be covered on the day but please watch the videos below.
VIDEO NEEDED - sorry guys I'm working on it!
Removing the long line or lead
Sometimes it will be possible to simply drop the long line but leave it trailing behind the dog. Other times you will be able to be long line free because you may have a chance to practise in a fenced field or friend’s garden, remember you only start to fade the long line when you have a 90% successful recall even with major distractions in many different outdoor environments. This means you never need to use the long line to ever pull on the dog. You should try to start this way, avoiding the temptation to tug at the dog to get his attention or get a recall.
Rather than simply take the long line off, when the dog can recall around any distraction, in any environment 90% of the time, we start to shorten the long line and fade it gradually rather than simply take it off. The dog will often realise that it is the line which reinforces the behaviour. If your dog makes the wrong choice and knows the line is no longer there the dog may decide to not come back. If the dog does not notice the line getting shorter and lighter you are less lightly to have this realisation from the dog. You do this by just chopping bits off your rope or line a little at a time.
A successful recall is when you have called the dog once and they have responded straight away and no lead or further command or reminder is required. The dog doing it all on their own and straight away and ENJOYING their new recall games.
Try to think of every scenario where you dog will require proofing. When attempting recalls with distractions, always build up the distractions slowly. Go from easy distractions you are sure your dog can achieve a recall around, then make it slowly harder.
A big list of possible distractions to inspire you.
A human playing with toy quietly a large distance away
A dropped boring item as the dog walks/runs passed
A dropped item less boring
A dropped item interesting
A dropped item smelling and fun looking
A dropped item containing food which the dog can’t access
A human playing with a toy in one place but with more vigour
A human playing with a toy with vigour closer to the dog
A human playing with a toy loudly with vigour
A human playing with a toy walking around quietly
A human playing with a toy walking around and talking loudly
A human playing with a toy whilst walking, talking loudly and with vigour
A human playing a fast game with a toy quietly
A human playing a fast game with a toy loudly and with vigour
A dropped food item that smells really good
A dropped food wrapper that smells good and moves in the wind
A fake dog on a lead
A quiet dog sitting still on a lead in the distance
A quiet dog walking on a lead in the distance
A quiet dog walking on a lead – closer but behind a fence
A quiet dog walking on a lead quite close
A quiet dog running in the distance
A quiet dog running behind a fence
A quiet dog running closer to your dog
A bunny sitting miles away in a field not moving
A bunny hopping about miles away in a field
A bunny running about miles away in a field
The same bunny as above but 50 metres closer. 1st sitting, then hopping, then running
The same bunny as above but 100 metres closer. 1st sitting, then hopping, then running
The same bunny as above but 500 metres closer. 1st sitting, then hopping, then running
The same bunny as above but 1000 metres closer. 1st sitting, then hopping, then running
A slightly more bouncy dog sitting in the distance on the lead
A slightly more bouncy dog walking on a lead in the distance
A slightly more bouncy dog walking on a lead – closer but behind a fence
A slightly more bouncy dog walking on a lead quite close
A slightly more bouncy dog running in the distance
A slightly more bouncy dog running behind a fence
A slightly more bouncy dog running closer to your dog
A very playful and bouncy dog sitting in the distance on the lead (if possible this type of dog likes to be active!)
A very playful and bouncy dog walking on a lead in the distance
A very playful and bouncy dog walking on a lead – closer but behind a fence
A very playful and bouncy dog walking on a lead quite close
A very playful and bouncy dog running in the distance
A very playful and bouncy dog running behind a fence
A very playful and bouncy dog running closer to your dog
The same as above but with the dog playing with a toy – start quiet and far away and get harder
The same as above but with the dog being fed treats – start quieter and far away and get harder
You may wish to do examples of the above with wildlife, sheep, picnics, poo, bikes, joggers anything you would rather the dog ignored and came to you instead.
Now repeat all the above from scratch in a new environment. If you taught this at your local park, now try the beach or the woods or the fields. Remember to go back to scratch each new place you go, your dog is very situational and will not easily transfer those skills. Once they have learnt to come away from the hardest distractions in two or three places then transferring the skills will be quicker and easier but training will still be required if you want your dog to be reliable.
The Premack Principle
For a great video on the Premack Principle please go to:
David Premack developed the Premack Principle. It puts forth “[t]he observation that high-probability behaviour reinforces low-probability behaviour.” Essentially it means this: “Eat your vegetables and you can have dessert.” To make this a bit easier to understand in terms of dog training, high-probability behaviours are what the dog wants; low-probability behaviours are what you want. In terms of recall the behaviour we want is for the dog to return so we can hold on to the dog for whatever reason we need to.
Choosing the high probability behaviours – what the dog wants.
Be sure to pick only those things that you would want to use as reinforcers later. Reinforcers in this case are the behaviour the dog wants – the high probability behaviours .Sock stealing, paper eating, garbage raiding, poop eating, furniture rearranging or chewing, and general behaviours you don't want don't count and shouldn't be on this list. For recall try to use things which are socially acceptable like saying hello to another dog or going to jump in a puddle. Be creative and watch your dog. He'll tell you what he wants. It may change from day to day, hour to hour, and even minute to minute. And that's okay—it will give you more reinforcers to choose from.
How will we know what the dog wants? Watch him carefully and write down what he enjoys most. Don't think you'll remember it all without writing it down, because you won't. See the list on page one for more ideas as well.
When the dog does what we want, we can now (where appropriate) reward him with what he wants. Making doing the behaviour we would prefer more likely as it is a path for the dog towards his own desires.
Here is a great article on using the premack principle and recall:
Premack in Practise
In training we will return to the very mild distractions in a very easy environment. Now when the dog does his recall he will get the reward from you and then he will also get to investigate the distraction afterwards. This isn’t done every time but regularly. Build up from mild distractions to hard distractions.
More Examples of Premack:
Last Few Tips
We are trying to create an automatic behaviour, getting a behaviour that the dog does without thinking about it. A habit of behaviour which, when regularly reinforced and trained, will remain with the dog for a lifetime.
When it all goes wrong (this will happen to even the best handlers!)
Remember interrupting the repetitions and training session to tell the dog off will slow training and disturb the pattern of learning. It can also confuse the dog and will make you both more stressed. Stop training for a while when it all goes wrong, and return to it later. Do this without telling the dog off. Stopping the training and fun with yourself will be a punishment on its own as long as your dog is finding you very motivating and enjoyable. By simply stopping rather than saying “NO” or “bad dog” etc, you won’t damage the relationship between you and the dog, or put the dogs training back a step, you will simply be saying that bad behaviour stops fun happening.
From this we can see that getting things wrong in training is as de-motivating for the dog as it can be for you and removes the fun and excitement from training. You can only get recall wrong if you have rushed the process or come up against a distraction you haven’t trained with. You will only get moments where it all goes wrong once you start to fade the long line, or you are in a very distracting environment on a long line before the dog is able to cope.
Your dog standing or pulling at the end of the line and totally ignoring you is not a huge failure – it means you are trying to walk your dog somewhere where there are too many distractions or your dog needed to be exercised in the garden before you went out for your walk. It could be you haven’t done enough foundation exercises or recall games.
It could be that your dog is not motivated by your rewards enough. Try hand feeding your dog all his food, if he refuses it he doesn’t get any food (no none at all!) until he will happily be hand fed all his food inside. Next stage is for our ‘Fussy Fido’ to be hand fed all his food in the garden, next stage is for him to be hand fed all his meals on his walks. No food at home at all.
The Real World
When you start training again make it easier so your dog always gets it right. Never give your dog the chance to go wrong by using the long line, normal lead or extender lead or fences. Don’t have your dog off lead unless you know it will come when you call – this is an example of setting the dog up to fail. If you forget and let the dog off DO NOT CALL THE DOG just wait till the dog approaches you or another human and praise and connect your long line back on.
If you really feel you must let your dog off for some reason even though you know that he is not fully trained make sure you have the time to wait for him to return without calling (as calling when your dog doesn’t respond just teaches him he can ignore you) – do not get stressed if this takes a long time as you made the decision to let the dog off the lead. Also remember the more self reward the dog has by having fun without you the less likely your dog is to return to you, he will wait till the opportunity for fun has gone first – then come back. If, of course, your dog believes you ARE the most fun he could ever have you will never have this issue. It is a realistic observation that calling your dog away from playing with other dogs (or any rewarding or reinforcing experience) is as much a punishment as stopping the dogs training fun when he starts to misbehave or taking a teenagers mobile phone away from them when they misbehave.
Remember that there are no quick fixes and it will take 1000’s of successful repetitions and years of training to achieve a perfect (or near perfect) recall. Not just weeks or months, if you have a recall “problem” now it will be a long time with daily practice until it is solved. Don’t forget the daily play and daily practice.
If you use a cross tone (or worse) with your dog to try and solve behaviour please note this will only suppress the behaviour or interrupt it not get rid of it, so be prepared for it to resurface again. Remember it will also damage your relationship – after all, who wants to return to the nagging human when birds are there to be chased, dogs to be played with and bushes and trees to be investigated.
The more positive and fun relationship you have with your dog, the more likely you are to achieve a recall in the end.
For more information on how to stop bad behaviours for good, please talk to Miranda or Jeff about your issue. Be it minor or major, we are here to help.