By now, your dog should be racing across the room enthusiastically to attend his party. The training steps you’ve practiced these last couple of weeks will be the same throughout the rest of your recall training – blow the whistle and party! (P.S. If you missed the two earlier entries, you should read Reliable Recall in Less Than a Minute a Day? and Recall Training: Getting Started.
Until this point, you’ve been in the same room with your dog. Now you’ll begin to move farther away, calling your dog from across the room when she least expects it. Once your dog is readily running across the room to retrieve a treat, you can begin calling her from the next room over, and by the end of the week, hopefully you will be able to whistle from the bedroom upstairs while she’s in the downstairs living room and she will race to find you. Again, only practice giving your signal 1 – 2x per session, 2 – 4x/day. I ALWAYS want to leave the dog wanting more, dreaming of the next time that whistle will go off. I never want my dog to think, “OMG, you’re blowing the freakin’ whistle again? We’re STILL practicing this recall thing?!”
It’s funny, because I often find it’s a challenge to convince my clients to actually go home and practice with their dogs, but those that have been following up on their recall homework until now are often so positively reinforced by their dog’s enthusiastic response to the whistle, I have to rein them in a little bit and make sure that they’re not overdoing it!
At this point, you can introduce a couple of really fun games to help get more repetitions, speed, and enthusiasm from your dog (although at this point, enthusiasm should definitely not be in short supply!).
Round robin recalls
You will need at least one human volunteer to play this game with you (the more the merrier!). Each volunteer will need her own whistle and supply of really delicious treats. Each participant will take turns calling the dog and repeating the reinforcement sequence.
NOTE: DO NOT play this game unless your dog is comfortable having her collar grabbed by each participating human. If she’s not, do more work on collar grab desensitization before proceeding with this game. We want to avoid your dog having any aversive experiences or associations with her new recall cue!
Hide and Seek
This is a great game for practicing on rainy days (any day, but rainy days, like today here in upstate NYS, are especially perfect because you can get your dog a little indoor exercise). You only really need two people to do this (or one, if your dog has an impeccable “stay”), but again, the more the merrier. Before you begin, you will need to determine:
a) a cue for humans – this is to signal to your fellow participants that you have completed the reinforcement sequence and they may now call the dog. We use “Go!”
b) a pre-determined order – in what order will you take turns calling the dog? This is so you can recognize, when the individual before you says, “go!” that it’s time for them to whistle for the dog. We’ll say our order will be Casey, Jim, Shannon, Ben.
Basically, I would have someone hold the dog for me while I went and hid. It’s important, in the early stages of this game, that you are not hiding very well – make it VERY easy for your dog to find you. (If at any point your dog seems bored, frustrated, or is otherwise unsuccessful and unenthusiastic, take a step or two back in the protocol, practice again for a few days, and when you reintroduce this game, try making your hiding spots easier and not hiding so far away, initially.) So basically, my hiding place might be standing behind a loveseat in the living room, where my dog can easily see me as she enters the room. As your dog’s skill level and enthusiasm for this game improves, you can begin making your hiding places more difficult (crouched down behind large pieces of furniture, hiding underneath tables or beds, in closets with the door only partially opened, in your bath tub with the shower curtain closed, etc.
Once I have hidden, I will blow my whistle at which point the person holding the dog will release the dog. As soon as the dog locates me, I grab his collar and start the party/reinforcement sequence. During this time, Jim will be choosing his hiding space. When I say, “Go!,” Jim will blow his whistle from his hiding place, and the reinforcement sequence would begin again when the dog locates Jim. During this time, Shannon would hide, etc.
Again, practice this game in short repetitions, usually 5 is the max I like to do – I definitely want this to be extremely exciting and never boring for my dogs. I don’t practice this every day either, it’s a good game to do once or twice a week.
We’ll talk about taking this behavior outside in our next entry. Until then, happy training!